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How to handle vaccine hesitancy at work

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
A woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19) vaccine. Photo: Pedro Nunes/Reuters
A woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19) vaccine. Photo: Pedro Nunes/Reuters

The coronavirus vaccine roll-out is well underway, bringing hope to many who are working on the frontline, homeschooling and struggling with changes to their work environment and income.

A vaccine is the only way to prevent the spread of the virus without the need for social restrictions and repeated lockdowns. But with mistrust of vaccinations becoming increasingly widespread, scientists have warned people who don’t believe in vaccines – or who are hesitant about having jabs – may undermine efforts to put an end to COVID-19.

Vaccine hesitancy is not new. However, the pandemic has created the ideal conditions for mistrust of a COVID-19 vaccine to thrive. The complexity and variability of transmission and infection – along with the spread of misinformation online – has allowed conspiracy theories to proliferate.

Even the fast pace of the vaccine development, necessary to counter the rising death toll of coronavirus, has heightened public anxiety.

Last year, a survey of 13,426 people in 19 countries found 71.5% of participants reported that they would be very or somewhat likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine. However, only 48.1% reported that they would accept their employer’s recommendation to do so. So what should employers do if people are hesitant about being vaccinated?

READ MORE: Can employers ban anti-vaxxers in the workplace?

“With over 9 million people in the UK given the first Covid vaccine dose, employers are now one step closer to their business operations resuming,” says Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR. “And while mass vaccination will take time, some staff will likely be more eager to get the vaccine sooner than others or at all.”

The COVID-19 vaccine isn’t mandatory, but some employers may want to implement a requirement for its staff to have the vaccine for safety reasons, Price says.

“This may apply to operators in the care sector, where maintaining social distancing and adhering to other safety measures while looking after vulnerable individuals is not possible,” he explains.

“In workplaces that do not involve care, such as offices or retail, it may be considerably more challenging to try and put such a restriction in place because of the ability to have employees working from or maintain social distancing in other ways to mitigate the risk,” Price says.

“To this end, it is highly advisable to focus more on encouraging staff to take the vaccine instead of trying to enforce it. If a company does try to go down an enforcement route, they should clearly outline why they feel this is necessary.”

Awareness campaigns that focus on the benefits of vaccination can be helpful in dealing with misinformation and fear. “It should be made clear to staff through a policy that while they will not be forced to take it, there are many benefits for doing so,” Price says.

READ MORE: Why returning to the office post-COVID could lead to proximity bias

“It should also be considered if external trainers and e-learning programmes may be required to explain further why the vaccines are safe and effective. Alternatively, employees can be encouraged to make an informed decision about having the vaccine by reading information from official sources, alongside a cautionary note to verify the source of their reading matter due to the existence of uncertified information.”

However, it’s important to remember that strongly held anti-vaccination beliefs can be difficult to change, especially when they involve conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories can be emotional, rooted in feelings of despair and disenchantment with the world, and aren’t easily explained away by rational arguments and myth-busting. Often, conspiracy theorists will believe that any attempt to change their minds is part of an alleged cover-up.

So how should you manage employees who are hesitant about being vaccinated?

“First, it should be remembered that there could be many reasons why employees do not want to take the vaccine,” Price says. “They may have been advised not to due to a pre-existing medical condition, or due to their religious beliefs. If employees are subjected to a detriment as a result of this or other such reasons, the organisation may face a costly discrimination claim.”

It’s essential to listen to their concerns and navigate them to appropriate information to alleviate these. And remember, you have the safety of your whole workforce to think about.

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