People & Transformation

There are Two Types of COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitants?

Yes… And Companies are Behind in Developing Plans to Communicate with Them

Since the announcement last fall that vaccines for COVID-19 would become available to the global public, companies have debated whether to encourage or mandate their employees to take the vaccine. Questions over how to handle communications around such a personal decision, as well as concerns about the legal ramifications around privacy and workplace discrimination laws (including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act), are delaying a needed conversation between employers and their workforces. This hesitation is leaving companies in a tenuous position around questions that will need to be addressed in the coming days or weeks.

Much public polling has been done over the past several months about perceptions of the vaccine and people’s willingness to take it. A sizable group labeled ‘vaccine hesitants’ has been identified and, while their numbers are shrinking as the public conversation continues to evolve and shift, there are still enough people in that category to prevent us from reaching the desired 70%-80% vaccination level that would lead to herd immunity.

‘Vaccine Hesitants’

FTI has closely monitored the shifting dynamics of Americans’ willingness to take available COVID-19 vaccines as well as conducted surveys for our clients among their employees. One key finding we discovered in our research is that ‘vaccine hesitants’ are not just one homogenous bloc. In fact, ‘vaccine hesitants’ are two distinct audiences. While they may appear similar, they have distinct differences in the information they seek, how they digest it, and who they trust in disseminating it to them.


Hesitant but Likely to Take

The first group of ‘vaccine hesitants’ are those who have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, yet they are likely to take it. They are largely concerned about side effects. This audience needs basic information and reassurance to encourage them to move forward in their decision-making process.


Hesitant and Need More Info
The second group needs far more information before they can even consider taking it. They are concerned about side effects, efficacy and how the clinical trials were conducted, and they want to wait and see what happens to others. This audience needs a far more personal touch, with an opportunity to ask more in-depth questions and hear from medical experts.

To maximize the numbers of employees getting vaccinated and protect the workforce at large, companies need to understand the dynamics of their ‘vaccine hesitant’ employees. Research done for FTI clients shows that assumptions did not hold true about how people view the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination and who influences their decisions about taking it. For example, companies should ask themselves:

  • What is the right role for senior leaders in this conversation?
  • Are our usual employee communications channels the right ones?
  • What information about the COVID-19 vaccine will calm employees’ concerns?

Identifying the two nuanced ‘vaccine hesitant’ groups via an employee survey is essential to aiding companies in determining where they need to invest their communications resources, what message to deliver and how to deliver it. Without this valuable information, companies may struggle to understand what percentage of their employee base needs to be encouraged to take the vaccine and how to respond to employees’ emotional needs in a way that moves them to take action and be vaccinated.

As of the writing of this article, less than one-quarter of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated ¹, meaning three-quarters of Americans still have the time to change their minds to take or decline the COVID-19 vaccine. More importantly, companies still have time to develop nuanced communication campaigns to employees about COVID-19 vaccination. The decision to take the vaccine is a very personal one. Failure to communicate properly to these employees can have longer term implications on company culture and values and an eventual return to “normal.”

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