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Trust In Employers Could Combat Vaccine Hesitancy

Sean Pyle

As health officials battle vaccine hesitancy and a reluctance to follow safety guidelines, they could turn to employers for help. 

A recent report from Edelman, an international communications firm, found that about 68% of Americans trust their own employer to respond effectively and responsibly to the pandemic. That’s compared to 43% for the government and 39% for the media.

This trust for someone’s own employer was shared by both Trump and Biden supporters. 

“There’s a special place for the relationship that people have with their employers, and we think that that relationship is going to be key to coming out of this (pandemic) safely and effectively, and frankly in a bipartisan manner,” said David Bersoff, head of Edelman’s global thought leadership research.

However, he said there’s little support for workplace vaccine requirements.

“It’s not about forcing,” he said. “That kind of behavior is going to destroy the trust.”

Instead, Bersoff said employers could use employee trust in them to incentivize getting a vaccine or make them easier to get.  

“If it’s not hosting a vaccination session,” he said, “it’s maybe helping them make appointments, or maybe giving them time off to go to their appointments. It’s sort of greasing the wheels.”

Already, certain employers are offering to pay employees to get vaccines or hosting their own vaccination events. Bersoff said past surveys show people also look to their employer for trusted information, especially when there’s a lack of agreement in society.

“Employers need to use that perception of them to become a source of trusted information about vaccine efficacy and safety and the need to wear masks,” Bersoff said.

Rick Grimaldi, a partner with Fisher Phillips law firm, agreed. 

“You can do tremendous good by educating your employees on any issue, but obviously particularly as it relates to, not just the vaccines, but creating an ongoing safe work environment,” said Grimaldi, who just publisheda book about handling broad changes in the workplace.

He said employers could even bring in other trusted professionals to talk about things like workplace safety policies or the science behind vaccines.

“The more people that are vaccinated, and the more we can educate people about the safety of the vaccine, the sooner we’ll get back to normal operations and the sooner the economy will recover,” he said.

But Grimaldi also said requiring vaccines may be the wrong way to go. Instead, he said giving people time off to get vaccines and recoup from any side effects could be a better way to go. 

He said “it’s better to be able to educate and motivate” even though employers could legally mandate vaccination, with certain exceptions. 

Grimaldi said Fisher Phillips did a national survey and found that employers prefered motivating over mandating vaccines, too.

“When you mandate something, you tend to find resistance,” he said. “Whereas if you can motivate, get people’s buy-in, gain people’s trust...they’re more likely to do it.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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