CDC Recommends Employer Steps to Increase Vaccine Acceptance

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. April 1, 2021
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CDC Recommends Employer Steps to Increase Vaccine Acceptance

​Employers should consider appointing "vaccination ambassadors" to make workers more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ensure certain precautions are in place before appointing vaccination ambassadors, legal experts recommend.

"Recent reports show a big percentage of health care workers, front-line essential workers and other critical infrastructure workforces are hesitant or outright refuse to receive a vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19," according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). CISA noted that if vaccine acceptance is low among these workers, others may also be reluctant to get the vaccine when it becomes available to them.

Recommended Steps

The following measures may increase vaccine acceptance in the workforce, according to the CDC:

  • Train interested staff to become COVID-19 vaccination ambassadors who will speak confidently and honestly, relaying personal stories about the vaccine to fellow co-workers and addressing any of their concerns.
  • Employ all available communication tools when promoting the COVID-19 vaccine to staff, including social media, internal communication channels, and posters or signs around the workplace.
  • Hold a virtual town hall where leadership, respected local medical experts and staff share their COVID-19 vaccine experiences and other vaccine facts and answer audience questions. Use experts to communicate to staff when talking about the COVID-19 vaccine. Ensure the experts present facts about the vaccine, including the risks.
  • Consider giving employees paid time off to get the vaccine and offering paid sick leave for employees who have adverse reactions.
  • Have workplace leadership take the COVID-19 vaccine, capture their experience using video or photo, and share the experience with staff.

The employer should ensure that any decision by a member of leadership to share his or her COVID-19 vaccination experience is voluntary and confirm in writing the voluntary nature of that decision, said Jennifer Barna, an attorney with Epstein Becker Green in Newark, N.J.

Vaccination Ambassadors

Prior to creating vaccination-ambassador programs, organizations should develop a comprehensive vaccination policy, said Naomi Bradley, managing director of Deloitte Consulting LLP in New York City.

The policy should provide guidance to employees around vaccination mandates and incentives, and any health, safety and privacy protocols. Vaccination ambassadors should be trained on the organization's policy along with anti-discrimination policies prior to rollout of the program, she said.

Bradley added that if vaccination ambassadors are not medical professionals, they should avoid responding to any health-related questions employees may raise. Instead, such questions should be directed either to HR or a medical professional, she said.

"Unless the person is highly trained in the science underlying the vaccines, thought has to be given as to what types of questions the ambassadors would actually be qualified to answer," said Sandi King, an attorney with Manatt in Los Angeles.

For example, she said, the ambassadors, when asked, can share their own experiences in getting the vaccine, such as:

  • How to register for an appointment.
  • What the wait time was like.
  • Whether it hurt to get the shot.
  • Whether they personally experienced any side effects.

"But it is unlikely that the average employee would be qualified to address any other specific vaccine-related topics," she said.

King added that vaccination ambassadors should avoid affirmatively reaching out to co-workers. She said the better approach "would be for the company to let their employees know that certain identified individuals who have received the vaccination are willing to discuss their personal experiences in getting the vaccine. Leave it to interested employees to make the reach-out to a vaccination ambassador whom the employee trusts or has a good relationship with."

Vaccination ambassadors do not need to have an answer for every question, said Catherine Cano, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Omaha, Neb.

For example, co-workers might voluntarily disclose that they are unsure about the vaccine due to medical conditions or pregnancy. "Vaccination ambassadors are not in a position to provide any input on those situations," she said. A vaccination ambassador might respond, "That sounds like something you'd have to discuss with your doctor, but are there any other questions you have about my experience?"

"I'd encourage vaccination ambassadors to always speak the truth and talk about what they know and don't know," said Dr. Leana Wen, a Baltimore-based public health professor at George Washington University and senior advisor at Avalere Health. "Meet people where they are. That means intentionally listening to the person they're speaking with, without judgment."

Vaccination ambassadors should be trained not to push employees to explain why they don't want to get a vaccine, as this may prompt the disclosure of protected information, such as a medical condition, said Joseph Harris, an attorney with A.Y. Strauss in New York City.

Town Halls

At a company town hall, "be prepared to answer tough questions and debunk misinformation," said Brian Pezza, an attorney with Lewis Rice in St. Louis. "Have a dress rehearsal."

If a company is based in one location, include a local doctor from an institution with strong name recognition in the community, Wen recommended, but if the company is national, a nationally prominent expert may be best. "Many studies show that some of the most trusted messengers are medical experts."

When confronted with opposition, "the company may calmly and factually respond to any concerns raised," said Nathaniel Glasser, an attorney with Epstein Becker Green in Washington, D.C. "To the extent these contentious issues are raised in town halls, however, ambassadors should attempt to move the discussion to a private setting."

"A virtual town hall has the potential of getting out of control if not well-organized," said Molly Batsch, an attorney with Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in St. Louis. "There is also the risk of staff sharing misleading or inaccurate information. Ways to reduce these risks include assigning a moderator, vetting staff experiences ahead of time and providing staff with important talking points after gathering information about their experiences. Planning ahead is key."

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