Vaccine hesitancy is an ongoing challenge that can come from many different places. Reluctance may come from concerns about safety, effectiveness or side effects. It can arise from biases and shortcuts (heuristics) that we often use to make decisions. Especially early in the pandemic, many lacked access to vaccines. Past experiences with healthcare and a lack of trust in institutions can also play a role. Misinformation from family, friends or the media may be an influence. So can confusion about changing or conflicting information, and practical barriers. Luckily, the same techniques can often be effective against different sources of hesitancy.
The majority of American adults report receiving at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine. Those who have not been vaccinated are more likely to report being opposed than hesitant. Yet, confidence in vaccines will be critical to achieve the levels of immunity that can protect communities from the virus. Last but not least, keep in mind that many people are not reluctant but are simply given less access to vaccines.
KEEP IN MIND
Communicate consistently and transparently about the importance of vaccination.
Explain why it’s important to your organization to have your employees vaccinated. Even if government regulations mandate vaccination, reinforce the underlying reasons especially as they relate to your organizational mission and values. The goals of health, safety, and economic recovery resonate with most employees. If you do not provide employee health insurance, be careful about emphasizing employee health as the primary goal.
Share your plans early and often.
Communicating about your process and plans can build trust. Piggyback on familiar channels like existing wellness programs and flu-vaccine campaigns. This can reinforce your ongoing commitment to employee wellness. Acknowledge that continued changes are likely based on vaccination results, variants, regulations, and ongoing research.
SET THE CONTEXT
Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy
First you need to understand why your employees may be reluctant to get a Covid-19 vaccine. Then you can communicate in a way that builds trust and addresses their concerns.
Tools and Materials
Concentrate your efforts on those who are hesitant but not strongly opposed.
Even so, do circle back to those who were initially strongly opposed. As vaccination becomes widespread and more of a social norm or is mandated for employees, their opposition may lessen. If you are planning or implementing a mandate, be sure to provide clear and consistent information across the organization.
Tailor your messaging.
Do not assume vaccine hesitancy means people are ignorant or reckless. Address the unique concerns, language and accessibility needs of people from these different backgrounds. The concerns of immigrants and people of color are often based on historical abuses and ongoing health inequities. These are real experiences that deeply impact trust, and should be validated rather than minimized. White evangelical Christians and Republican-leaning people are also more likely to be hesitant. Consider recruiting trusted community messengers like medical professionals or religious leaders. Also think about the context in which the information will be received (e.g., by a group or individual).
Harness personal vaccination stories.
Share vaccination videos and testimonials from your leaders, managers and a range of employees. You can also encourage managers to personally share their stories with their teams. Engage medical, local or religious leaders from your employees' communities to build trust.
Use a variety of channels and visuals to maximize your reach.
Some options include newsletters (digital and print), posters and webinars (live or archived). You can also post “vaccine highlights” on the company Intranet. Remember that not everyone has ready access to a computer. Sometimes physical materials in common spaces can be the most effective.
Reduce practical barriers to vaccination.
There are many factors that can make vaccination inconvenient or difficult. You could provide updated information. Consider incentives like extra time off and transportation to get a vaccine or a booster. Remind people that vaccination is free and does not require medical insurance.
Train supervisors to be reliable resources.
Employees will likely come to their direct superiors with questions and concerns. Give supervisors reliable resources like FAQs from the CDC (available in multiple languages). Where possible, provide tips on effective communication. Remember that communicating health information is very challenging. Even professional health organizations have fumbled during the pandemic. Let your employees know that this is a hard problem, and do your best to prepare them for it.
Meet people where they are.
Acknowledge that concerns are normal. Encourage questions. Also check your own assumptions: don’t judge, argue or downplay what you hear. If people feel disrespected or forced, they are more likely to seek out and fall prey to misinformation. This is especially likely if their concerns are not addressed by reliable sources.
Reinforce that the decision is theirs.
When people feel they have agency, they are less anxious and more likely to follow recommendations. They will also tend to view their decision positively. Your primary role is to provide information in a supportive way. If you are considering or implementing a mandate, you will need to be clear--and clearly communicate--about the timing and implications for your employees.
Learn how your employees feel about vaccination.
Are they planning to get vaccinated, uncertain or opposed? What are their concerns? Frame your questions as an opportunity to provide information and help. While gathering this information may be challenging, it’s a good start. You could conduct a formal survey via email, kiosk polls or text-based pulse polls (download the sample survey, below). You could also host “town halls" and check in with employees directly or through managers. Let them know how their responses have been helpful.
Do not assume vaccine hesitancy means people are ignorant or reckless. Try to avoid “priming” people’s answers by listing possible concerns. Allow ample time for listening to uncover the deeper source(s) of their hesitancy. Combining several methods to share their thoughts – online, in small groups, in personal conversations – will make it more likely for any one employee to have a space they are comfortable speaking up in. You might also ask what concerns they are hearing from colleagues. This might be easier than telling you about their own.
LISTEN AND RESPOND
Keep communication open.
It’s critical that employees continue receiving answers to their questions. Have supervisors check in with employees. What are they experiencing? What are they hearing from others? Keep these interactions regular and informal. Address questions at employee meetings or in regular internal communications. Thank people for their feedback.
Vaccine hesitancy can vary according to many different factors. Consider age, gender, race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, religious and political affiliation.
The severe impact of Covid-19 and the rapid development of its vaccines have heightened some concerns.