Convincing employees to accept Covid-19 vaccinations may become the most critical internal communications task of 2021.
In a herculean effort, pharmaceutical companies will soon distribute vaccines to the public. Medical experts say 75% of the public must be vaccinated in order for life – and the economy – to return to normal. Yet various surveys report that 40% to 50% of Americans say they don’t want the vaccine.
Only a determined internal communications effort, done in concert with HR and company leadership, can persuade the majority of employees to accept the vaccine. Businesses generally oversee employee health plans and typically garner more trust than government agencies.
Squashing “vaccine hesitancy” could prove challenging. Misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines, spread on social media, abounds. Businesses and their communications professionals will need to lead the charge against vaccine misinformation.
“Employer efforts to educate on the merits of vaccines in general, and the COVID vaccination process specifically, can make a real difference to mitigate vaccine hesitancy,” Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, told Human Resource Executive. “Transparency and trust will be the key.”
A Roadmap for Employee Communications
The Institution for Public Relations (IPR) has prepared A Communicator’s Guide to Covid-19 Vaccination that includes research reports, guidelines and strategy recommendations, and other resources.
“Employees and external audiences are increasingly depending on companies to be trusted sources for providing credible information and resources,” states Steve Cody, IPR chair and founder and CEO of Peppercomm, in IPR’s press release. “Communicators can play a significant role in increasing vaccine uptake through compelling and targeted communication to help end the pandemic.”
“Understanding what people know, how they think, their behavioral intentions, and subsequent behavior can help increase vaccine uptake,” adds Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., IPR president and CEO. “This research-driven guide offers a pathway for communicators to reduce uncertainty about the Covid-19 vaccine.”
Transparency, tailored communications to particular audiences, and storytelling are a few of the main PR tools. “Stories and anecdotes about those affected positively by vaccinations are more likely to be effective than statistics. First-person testimony can help increase confidence,” the guide states.
The Case for Mandatory Vaccinations
Widespread vaccinations can be achieved only if companies require vaccinations for employees, argues New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin. Courts have upheld mandatory vaccinations in the past. Already, public and private schools require students to receive vaccinations against multiple illnesses. The New York State Bar Association has urged the state to consider mandatory vaccinations if voluntary efforts fall short, which appears likely.
Some companies could even require customers to receive the vaccine. For instance, an airline that requires vaccinations could promote itself as safe for travelers.
Although some corporate leaders would like to mandate vaccinations, they worry that a backlash could spiral into a public-relations nightmare, Sorkin says. That’s understandable, but the stakes are high. While corporations frequently publicize their social responsibility programs, the most pressing social need now is to corral the epidemic.
Bottom Line: Companies must undertake determined communications efforts to convince employees to take Covid-19 vaccinations next year. They’ll also need to make tough decisions about mandating employees to be vaccinated.
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William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.