Role of Employers: The Most Effective Ways to Talk about COVID-19 Vaccines


COVID-19 Vaccine
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What’s the role of employers in communicating about COVID-19 vaccines and helping overcome vaccine hesitancy?  

It’s critical,” said Anne Caprara, chief of staff to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. “Because, truthfully, a lot of what we’re doing here is working on outreach through employers, through local community businesses.” 

That’s why the second part of our event focused on employer communications about COVID-19 vaccines focused on the messages that are most likely to help people make the right decision about vaccination.

We strongly encourage our employees to choose to be vaccinated when they are eligible, specifically letting them know that all approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and protective and proven to dramatically lower the risk of severe complications from COVID-19,” Steve Hartell of Amazon told the audience. “Also, by receiving vaccinations workers will help protect themselves, their loved ones, their co-workers and their community.”

This is especially timely given mounting concerns about data that suggest a portion of the adult population is uninterested or uncertain about getting the shot. If this holds, it could take longer than expected for the country to reach the threshold that makes it easier to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

For us to achieve herd immunity – and to confidently turn the corner on this virus and to restore lives and livelihoods across the country – we will have to get the vast majority – if not all – of Americans who currently state that they are uncertain vaccinated,” Tara Azimi, a partner at McKinsey, said during the event. 

The Rockefeller Foundation has been studying public attitudes about the pandemic since early 2020. Eileen O’Connor says there are a number of lessons they’ve learned from their work on messaging about COVID-19 tests and contact tracing that apply to COVID-19 vaccines. Her research suggests the most effective vaccination messages use these frames: 

  • Do Your Part: Show local leaders and neighbors being vaccinated to build social proof 

  • Do it For Them: Vaccination isn’t just for you – it’s to make the community safe for the people you care about 

  • Before It’s Too Late: We’re in a race against the new variants – and time matters 

Until everyone is vaccinated, no one is safe,” O’Connor said, adding employers “will still need to do things like having  social distancing, people wearing masks, as well as people getting tested even when they don’t have any symptoms.” 

What Messages Work for Employers? 

New research from Civis in collaboration with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation illustrates the importance of thoughtful employer-employee communications about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination.  

More than a quarter of respondents (26%-32%) in the Civis study said they would not get the vaccine, with another 16%-17% saying they’re unsure about the shot. That’s in line with other recent research. 

Employers have an important role to play in educating employees, but they must understand the nuances of the audience they are engaging: there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Crystal Son of Civis writes.  

The United States is rationing vaccine doses right now. But employers can increase the likelihood that individuals will get vaccinated when their time comes by taking a research-driven approach to communications about the approved COVID-19 vaccines. 

The biggest takeaway: When presented with messaging that emphasized company leadership was getting vaccinated in solidarity with the rest of the organization, survey respondents were most likely to say that it increased their interest in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

This messaging was the most persuasive for just about every demographic group.  

Of particular interest to employers is the fact that messages work differently for different groups, making it important to consider workforce composition as they educate people about the COVID-19 vaccines. For example, the Civis data suggest messages that lead with accommodations or incentives for vaccinations are more likely to backfire with Black and Hispanic employees. 

The final takeaway for us is the paradox of leading with messages that emphasize the safety of the vaccines. We know from other research that concerns about side effects are a major contributor to vaccine hesitancy, yet the Civis data suggest that starting with arguments about the economic benefits of vaccination or the safety of the vaccines could make people less likely to accept the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s offered to them. 

One of the things we learned from this event is the importance of trusted ambassadors. 

Trust is local,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus of Walmart, explaining the importance of health literacy. “You’ve got to make sure people are speaking with people who they already know and they believe. And you also have to be able to provide people with answers to their questions.”  

To answer more of your questions, please visit the U.S. Chamber’s Digital Resources Center for Vaccines