The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the United States has been steadily decreasing, an encouraging trend that can be at least partially attributed to vaccinations — as of May 2021, more than half of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated.
However, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about a third of the adult population is either hesitant about getting the vaccine or outright refuses to get it — 12% are going to “wait and see,” 7% will only get it if it’s mandated, and 13% don’t plan on ever getting it.
While the vaccine may not be the only factor that will help us return to “normal,” it is one of the main contributors. Plus, increasing vaccine uptake is one of the only ways to prevent the COVID-19 variants from getting out of control and potentially creating a super-variant that’s resistant to both the vaccine and current treatment methods. Simply put: The more people who receive the vaccine, the better.
In a recent session at the Southeast Benefits Educational Network’s COVID-19 forum, Dr. Mohannad Kusti, Castlight clinical advisor and president and CMO of Optimal Workplace and Environmental Wellness Corporation, and Castlight Chief Financial Officer Will Bondurant spoke about how employers can help increase vaccination rates and transition their workplaces into a true new normal.
Promoting Broader Vaccine Adoption: The Employer’s Role
“Employees trust you more than almost anybody else for their healthcare information,” says Bondurant. “It’s their doctor and their employer. That’s a really special place to be,” especially when it comes to increasing vaccination rates.
Employers are also in a unique position because about 50% of the U.S. population is covered by commercially-sponsored insurance and, historically, 20% of annual flu vaccines have been administered at worksites, meaning many employers have experience encouraging and operationalizing mass vaccination efforts. Here are two ways employers can encourage and enable more of their workforce to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Provide Comprehensive Vaccine Education
Equip your workforce with high-quality, evidence-based information using easy-to-understand language that addresses all possible vaccine questions. Castlight’s Vaccine Navigation tool, for example, which is available to all Castlight users, answers a long list of vaccine-related questions empathetically, including:
- How are the COVID-19 vaccines different?
- Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
- Will the vaccine affect my DNA?
- Should I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant or lactating?
Improving vaccine literacy requires more than a single flier or email. Communicate the information more than once and in different formats, whether it’s email, company-wide meetings, or a navigation tool like Castlight. Though you should try to leverage different modes of communication, store all of your vaccine information in one place so it’s easy to find and reference. And, if possible, consider providing human support — like our Castlight Care Guides — as an added layer of education and guidance for employees who prefer human touch.
Help Employees Better Navigate the COVID-19 Vaccine Experience
About one quarter of adults don’t know when they can get the vaccine, and one fifth aren’t sure where. Employers can step in and provide that information by equipping their workforce with tools that will help them easily figure out when, where, and how to receive a vaccination.
Tools like Vaccine Navigation can help with this, but “there are also ways to do it for those of you who haven’t purchased a solution like that,” Bondurant says, “even just with public resources like vaccines.gov.” In addition, explore whether or not you can offer onsite vaccinations at your worksite, as this can improve access for many employees, and consider providing incentives, whether financial, like additional paid time off, or behavioral, such as reduced worksite restrictions when enough employees are vaccinated.
4 Tips for Returning to Work
Though there’s still work to be done in terms of vaccine adoption, the increased rates of COVID-19 vaccinations have prompted many states and workplaces to ease restrictions and start resuming pre-pandemic operations. But while the return to the office is likely exciting for many, it’s a delicate and rapidly evolving situation that should be approached with care. Here are some insightful return-to-worksite tips from Dr. Kusti.
1. Prioritize Vaccine Promotion
Dr. Kusti advises making every effort to help employees make an informed decision about getting the vaccine. Supply them with accurate information from reliable resources that helps break down some of the most popular COVID-19 vaccine myths. Of course, some employees won’t be able to get vaccinated due to a health condition. For those who self-disclose this, have a discussion about reasonable accommodations. For example, you could allow them to work from home until higher levels of the community are vaccinated.
2. If Necessary, Continue with COVID-19 Safety Guidelines
If your workforce consists of a mixture of employees who are and are not vaccinated, Dr. Kusti believes it’s safer to continue requiring face coverings, physical distancing, and advanced personal hygiene like frequent hand washing. Consider staggering shifts or in-office days and request that anyone who feels sick stay home (and isn’t penalized for doing so). “These simple things can make a huge difference,” Dr. Kusti says.
3. Facilitate Two-Way Communication
Create space for your employees to discuss their concerns, whether you ask them to voice their thoughts during meetings, survey them anonymously, or both. “Hear what they are saying and what their concerns are so you can address them appropriately,” says Dr. Kusti. In addition, make sure your worksite is safe and clearly communicate all the steps you’ve taken to do so.
4. Limit Business Travel
Ultimately, Dr. Kusti recommends avoiding travel that isn’t absolutely necessary, as the CDC still considers travel a high-risk activity due to potential exposures. However, consider requiring the vaccine for necessary business travel. Make sure your guidelines are very clear and specific to mode of travel (e.g., plane, bus, train) and destination.
The road ahead looks much less turbulent than it has been the past 15 months, but there will still be some bumps along the way. It’s important we all remember we’re in this together, and that the health of the workforce should always be top priority. “This pandemic showed us how vulnerable our workforce is and how important workplace wellness is,” Dr. Kusti says. “Employers should really try to keep their workforce healthy, so that when we have another outbreak, we don’t have to send everybody home because they’re high-risk.”