The United States has surpassed 29 million COVID-19 cases, with over half a million succumbing to the virus. Additionally, the pandemic has had staggering effects on the healthcare system. For just one commercially-insured COVID-19 patient who requires hospitalization, the average cost is a little over $38,000.
Though distribution of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — both of which require two doses per person — began in late 2020, less than 20% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and just under 10% have received both doses. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, of the U.S. adults who have yet to be vaccinated, 60% don’t have enough information about when they can get the vaccine, and 55% don’t know where they can get it.
As vaccine distribution rates increase — especially with the very recent approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — employers are uniquely suited to help with vaccine navigation for the following three reasons: 50% of the population is covered through commercial health insurance; the Influenza vaccine already serves as a great model for workforce vaccination efforts; and employers are seen as a trusted source of information.
Recently, Castlight hosted a webinar with Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, director of Better Evidence at Ariadne Labs, faculty director of the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University, and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Ben Jackson, assistant vice president of Human Resources at AT&T (a Castlight customer), and Dr. Dena Bravata, chief medical officer at Castlight, to dive into the role employers can play in COVID-19 vaccine navigation.
How Employers Have Approached Vaccines in the Past
Prior to COVID-19, AT&T provided flu shots for their employees, but it was seen much more as a “check-the-box” activity for a wellness program. “It was something we wanted to make convenient for our employees to get,” Jackson says. “We probably knew a little bit about the science, but it wasn’t something we heavily resourced or communicated.” Looking back now through the COVID-19 lens, he believes this was a naive approach.
Of course, not all industries and employers are the same. Healthcare facilities, for example, typically require their workforces to receive vaccinations — especially staff members who are patient-facing. In Dr. Weintraub’s healthcare system, front line providers need to attest that they’ve received the flu vaccine.
Though this likely doesn’t apply to healthcare facilities, it’s abundantly clear that many organizations will need to develop a much more robust strategy for the COVID-19 vaccine. The “check-the-box” mentality won’t suffice anymore.
4 COVID-19 Vaccine Workforce Communication Strategies
Clear, consistent communication with employees is always crucial, but it’s even more important during a crisis like a pandemic. Here are a few strategies employers should consider when thinking about their approach to communications about the COVID-19 vaccine:
1. Create a Two-Way Dialog with Employees
It’s absolutely essential to receive input from your workforce about how often they want to hear from you, what communication channels are best for them, and what topics they need more or clearer information on. Send out regular surveys about the current sentiment on the vaccine and virus-related communications, and encourage managers to solicit feedback from their teams. Constantly strive to try and understand what information gaps need to be filled.
“Always have feedback loops,” Jackson says. “Don’t just push things on [your employees] and assume they’ve got it. Do videos, webcasts, and more to unpack any misinformation that’s out there.” Whenever they did host an event, AT&T allotted time for audience questions. When there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, Jackson and his team reviewed the outstanding questions afterward and ensured they provided comprehensive answers.
2. Recruit Executive Leadership to Champion Vaccinations
Top-down communications can be incredibly powerful. Recently, AT&T hosted an internal webcast with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and AT&T’s CEO to talk about the vaccine. In it, they stressed that they would give the vaccine to their families, and AT&T’s CEO said he was going to get vaccinated, as well.
“I know it’s not always easy to get your CEO, another C-suite leader, or a key player in a business unit to go tell the story,” Jackson says. “But we’ve done that, and it’s been a huge leap forward in just making people feel comfortable entertaining the idea of getting the vaccine.”
3. Send Targeted Messaging to Different Groups
At AT&T, approximately 30% (60,000 people) of the workforce is essential — those working in their retail stores, those climbing the towers to ensure the rest of us have wireless internet, field center techs, and more. These individuals never stopped “going to the office,” while the other 70% did.
In order for communications to be effective, AT&T has to send different messaging to these two groups. For example, essential employees need to know about on-the-job virus safety protocols in addition to whether or not they officially qualify for the essential persons vaccination phase in their specific state. The rest of the workforce has broader questions about the vaccine, such as when and where they can get it. For those inquiries, “we’re pushing them to our Castlight education hub,” Jackson says. “That’s where we send them for general information and education [about the COVID-19 vaccine].”
Targeted messaging is also important when factoring in social determinants of health. Not everyone has equal access to the vaccine, and communications should be adjusted to account for that when possible.
4. Understand the Most Successful Messaging
When it comes to developing communications about the COVID-19 vaccine, the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that the top three messages for emphasizing vaccine effectiveness are:
- The vaccines are highly effective in preventing illness.
- The vaccine will help protect you from getting sick.
- The quickest way for life to return to normal is for most people to get vaccinated.
“What we know about these vaccines, is that they are home runs,” Weintraub says. “They are all tested thoroughly. There were no shortcuts. We had all the requisite trials conducted. Part of the reason that the clinical results from the trials are so clear is that all the approved vaccines protect you from dying from COVID-19 — when something works this well, their effectiveness is easy to observe. And we very much appreciate the role of employers in communicating the value of these vaccines.”
How Castlight Helps Employers Address Vaccine Navigation and Literacy
Castlight has been committed to assisting customers with navigating the COVID-19 crisis since the very beginning. Recently, we launched Vaccine Navigation, a feature members can access from the homepage of their unique Castlight portal both via app and desktop.
Vaccine Navigation provides comprehensive and high-quality educational content on topics such as vaccine efficacy, safety, and side effects. There’s also a self-service chat feature that helps employees better understand when and where they can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, Castlight customers can customize their vaccine support by leveraging existing Castlight functionalities to send targeted messages and including company-specific vaccine content within the programs and activities section of the Castlight experience.
To hear more about how employers can approach the COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to how Castlight can help, watch the webinar. To view all of our past webinars and register for upcoming webinars, click here.