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Employers Have a Critical Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Education

COVID-19 vaccine safety
  • Published
  • 24 December 2020
  • Category
  • General

Surveys show the number of Americans who plan to get vaccinated is increasing along with their confidence in COVID-19 vaccine safety. However, a significant percentage of the population is still not planning to get the shots that have been authorized for emergency use.

A late November Pew Research Center survey found 60 percent of Americans would either “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated, up 9 percentage points since September. Among the 12,648 U.S. adults who responded to the Pew survey, the remainder said they “definitely” or “probably” would not get vaccinated; 21 percent of them were “pretty certain” more information will not change their minds.

The Pew study identified these indicators of vaccine compliance:

  • Concerns about becoming seriously ill and needing hospitalization
  • Trust in the vaccine research, development and approval process
  • Personal history with regard to receiving vaccines, such as an annual flu shot
  • Higher than average exposure risk due to age or an underlying medical condition

Political views are also an influencing factor: 69 percent of respondents who identified as Democrats said they would be get vaccinated, compared to 50 percent of Republicans.

A Gallup poll also found Americans’ vaccine acceptance increased in October: 58 percent of respondents said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 50 percent in September. Reasons for not getting vaccinated included:

  • Shortened timeline for vaccine development and approval for distribution
  • Not wanting to be among the first to receive it and waiting to be sure it’s safe
  • Not trusting vaccines, in general, or being suspicious about the need for it

Wait, There’s More…

Other related studies include:

  • An AP-NORC poll based on interviews conducted Dec. 3-7, 2020, with 1,117 U.S. adults found that men, older adults and white Americans were especially likely to get vaccinated, while relatively few Black Americans and adults under 45 planned to do so. Three-in-10 respondents said they are “very” or “extremely” confident that the first available vaccines have been properly tested for safety and effectiveness.
  • An ABC/Ipsos survey found a majority of Americans consider health care personnel, first responders, the elderly and those with serious health risks as high-priority recipients, with elected officials and athletes a lower priority. When asked about priority distribution for “people like you,” most respondents gave themselves a medium- or low-priority ranking. About 15 percent said they would never get vaccinated. Responses were gathered using an online panel representative of the adult U.S. population.
  • Months before vaccines were authorized by the FDA for emergency use, a research paper on determinants of COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in the U.S. was published by The Lancet in EClinical Medicine. Among 672 participants surveyed, 67 percent said they will accept a COVID-19 vaccine if it is recommended for them. Men, older adults (≥55 years), Asians (compared to other racial and ethnic groups), and college and/or graduate degree holders were more likely to accept the vaccine. Noticeable demographic and geographical disparities in vaccine acceptance were also found.

What Can We Learn From This?

Many employers are facing a barrage of employee questions about the vaccine. These inquiries should be anticipated and responded to with factual information from reliable sources.

In a report outlining factors that drive vaccine acceptance, a World Health Organization advisory group highlights three critical attributes: an enabling environment, social influences and motivation. Related tactics include:

  • Making the vaccine easy, quick and affordable to attain
  • Having health care professionals and prominent community leaders demonstrate acceptance
  • Using the workplace, public venues, social media platforms, news outlets and personal encounters to reach diverse audiences

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine cites MDGuidelines, published by Reed Group, as a resource. The guidelines include a new recommendation for vaccination based on the strength of published evidence and a high level of confidence in vaccine efficacy, particularly for vulnerable populations – including people in occupations requiring frequent close contact with others. The guidelines denote these benefits of vaccination: “Markedly reduced risk of infection and serious illness, and termination of the pandemic.”

Other recommended resources include:

Armed with information, employers can develop communication plans and messaging to ensure employees have access to consistent, accurate updates.

It’s also helpful to have a company policy in place. For example: Employees may be encouraged to obtain a vaccination as soon as it becomes available to them. Essential front-line personnel may be pre-registered for state-provided distribution programs. The company may offer vaccination onsite, as available, or cover the cost of obtaining the vaccine from an outside source, such as a local clinic or drug store. Some companies may require employees who refuse the vaccine to sign a declination form.

Even with vaccination it is still possible to become infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and spread it to others. Those who have had COVID-19, been vaccinated or have not yet received the vaccine will continue to be expected to wear a mask, wash their hands and avoid close contact with others until there is clear evidence that exposure risk has greatly diminished and the pandemic has lost its power.

The more people who do not practice prevention and decline vaccination, the farther we will be from achieving widespread immunity.

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