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The HR Manager: Protecting Your Workforce

Helping employees overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

By Bethany Denning

Mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees is complicated and has many implications, especially because many employees are hesitant to receive the vaccine. In a report released Feb. 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that nearly a third of Americans who were prioritized for early vaccination did not intend to receive the vaccine. So how can employers promote vaccine confidence to protect their workforce and the communities in which they operate, without mandating employees receive the vaccine?

As with any significant initiative, supportive leadership and clear communication are critical to overcome employees’ hesitancy to get the vaccine. Begin with selecting leaders who can champion the initiative—in this case promoting the vaccine. Identify those who can gain support from others, communicate directly with employees and “walk the talk.”

Engage the management team and internal influencers—those who have the power to affect others’ opinions through relationships—to help explain the rationale for getting the vaccine and provide informative communication that is easily understood. Share CDC and state resources with employees rather than social media posts and political news sources. Leverage your leaders to address concerns and hesitancy around getting the vaccine. Finding ways to mitigate the resistance or hesitancy in receiving the vaccine will be critical to encouraging employees.

How can employers address vaccine concerns?

Begin by understanding the points of resistance. The most common concerns reported in the CDC study were vaccine side effects and safety, lack of trust in the government, and concern that vaccines were developed too quickly. Consider conducting town halls and small group roundtables as well as sharing live or recorded messages from leaders endorsing the vaccine. Share objective resources and links for signing up and encourage employees to make appointments as soon as eligibility requirements are met. Remind employees that the current vaccines on the market nearly eliminate the risk of hospitalization and death. Share information about common side effects of the vaccine, so employees know what to expect.

Focus on immediate benefits for employees, the larger workforce and community, as well as the likelihood that vaccines will be required in the future for certain life activities like travel and public events. Share personal stories from employees who have experienced the benefits of the vaccine. Publish organization-wide tallies to encourage others. Consider offering additional time off to cover both vaccine appointments and time to recover from potential side effects.

Where can employers and employees find additional resources?
The kycovid19.ky.gov website provides the most up-to-date information on vaccine phases and distribution plans. Additionally, the CDC has an FAQ page for individuals as well as guidance for employers. The vaccine manufacturers also provide FAQ pages detailing vaccine efficacy, ingredients and other data-driven information.
Employers play a critical role in encouraging and informing employees about the vaccine and ultimately establishing herd immunity. ■

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