Employers can play a bigger role in making sure Americans get COVID-19 vaccines
Throughout this pandemic, the U.S. workforce has experienced inequities in access to protections related to COVID-19, including PPE, viral testing and health care. We can’t make the same mistake with the COVID-19 vaccine.
To help us do better, employers must be as invested as the health care community and the government in ensuring equitable and responsible access to COVID-19 vaccines for their entire workforce.
Employers have reason to prioritize equitable vaccine access: Workplace outbreaks have been a major contributor to community surges.Essential workers, made vulnerable by their working conditions, are still at great risk for exposure and spread. And many essential workers live in predominantly Black and brown communities that are unfairly experiencing the highest rates of COVID-19.
How employers can help
Companies and their communities will benefit if they make sure that, from the C-suite to the shop floor, all workers get vaccinated. Here are four ways employers can help.
►Host on-site vaccination. The easiest way to ensure that all workers have access to vaccines and vaccine-related care, including essential workers and low-wage earners, is to provide these at their place of work. If you’re a place-based employer, consider hosting on-site vaccination sessions or hubs, similar to what you may do with the flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shared preliminary guidance for planning such events, with further details expected soon. As vaccines become more widely available — even with so many employees still working from home — place-based employers can still serve as on-site vaccine administration centers, helping to distribute the vaccine safely and efficiently to their employees.
►Give your entire workforce paid time off to get the vaccine and to heal if they have side effects. No one should have to choose between their rent and the COVID-19 vaccine. Yet, research from TIME’S UP Foundation found roughly half of Latinx and Black women did not have enough money at the start of the pandemic to pay for basic needs like food and housing.
Offering paid time off, work-from-home flexibility and shift schedule adjustments for your workforce to get the vaccine should be a no-brainer, but it’s just as essential to provide paid time off for any side effects that may occur. The most common side effects — including headaches and fevers — are also how COVID-19 may present, making staying home to monitor symptoms and recover all the more important.
► Provide subsidies for vaccine-related out-of-pocket costs. The pharmaceutical companies and government have rallied in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis in ways unlike any other in recent memory — and as a result, no one should be charged a copay or any other expense for the vaccine itself.
However, employees could be subject to administrative fees charged by sites providing the vaccine, and other related costs — such as those for travel, child care, or lost tips — could be burdensome for your workforce. Help your employees prepare financially for the vaccine by having your benefits specialist clearly outline how employees can access the vaccine in the most cost-effective ways. For example, FSA accounts might be used for travel related to medical care, including receipt of the vaccine.
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Finally, as COVID-19 cases surging coast to coast, private transit may be preferable to public transit (remember: masks should be worn by both the passenger(s) and driver!) and caregiving burdens continue to affect Americans from coast to coast, according to TIME’S UP’s research. Employers may also consider partnering with transit provider(s), child care provider(s), and otherwise offer remuneration to help alleviate these burdens.
►Proactively distribute vaccine information that’s credible, evidence-based, up-to-date and culturally competent from trusted sources to employees. In addition to questions about costs and coverage, your workforce will likely have questions about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine itself. You don’t need to answer these questions yourself, but you can facilitate learning sessions to engender trust and support their comfort with the vaccine.
Vaccinated workers will help recovery
One model for worker engagement is through the implementation of worker health and safety councils. Nominated and elected by the workers, workplace monitors can be empowered to ensure widespread dissemination of information about vaccine logistics and aftercare, including local vaccine locations, appointment registration, and what to expect post-vaccine. Workers councils can partner with employers to identify trusted medical providers, public health officials, infectious disease specialists, and other trusted local leaders to participate in Q&A sessions, facilitated via web conferences, written newsletters, staff social channels, and other communications channels.
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Critically, all factual information — about the vaccine, eligibility, benefits and accommodations — should be provided through multiple modes of communication, drafted using best practices for information accessibility in mind, and available in all languages used by your workforce.
A vaccinated workforce will decrease disruptions in businesses and be a critical piece in America’s economic recovery from this pandemic. But these benefits are only possible when employers truly champion vaccine access, broadly and equitably, among their workforce.
Dr. Marina Del Rios is an emergency physician and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) is a global health advocate and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation. Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill (@drjootz) is a pediatrician, infectious disease specialist and professor at the Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Esther Choo (@choo_ek) is an emergency physician, professor of medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University, a founding member of TIME’S UP Healthcare, and a board member of TIME’S UP Foundation. Dr. Aletha Maybank (@DrAlethaMaybank) is a preventive medicine and public health specialist and Chief Health Equity Officer at the American Medical Association.