Communications Guidance for Businesses

Communicating About COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements

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Updated: September 13, 2021

The highly transmissible Delta variant is driving a new wave of COVID-19 infections across the country. Public health officials warn that we must encourage many more Americans to get vaccinated, including more than 80 million people in the United States who are currently eligible for vaccines but remain unvaccinated and at real risk. On September 9, 2021, the Biden administration announced a new plan that obligates all employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccination or weekly testing for COVID-19. Many more companies not covered by the plan are considering vaccine requirements on their own.

This document provides general guidance for employers to plan and communicate about COVID-19 vaccine requirements to workers, customers and the media in the context of the Delta variant. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so you should be prepared to customize outreach for groups with unique needs and questions. To help you get started, we’ve also prepared key messages, audience insights and guidance for responding to sensitive questions.

Four Key Steps to Planning and Communication

All vaccine requirements, whether mandated by the federal government or initiated independently, need thoughtful planning and communication. Here are four essential steps: 

1. Gather Employee Feedback
Use surveys or focus groups to hear directly from employees. Think about everyone you are trying to reach within the organization, as well as their varying levels of understanding (and enthusiasm for or concerns about) COVID-19 vaccines.And be sure to engage workers representing communities that have been most affected by COVID-19. Organize vaccine education and listening sessions with employee resource group (ERG) leaders to better understand their unique needs and concerns. Our resources and workshops can help.
2.  Anticipate questions.
Employers implementing vaccine requirements will need to answer a number of logistical and equity questions:
3.  Offer a compelling rationale that reinforces your commitment to health and safety.
Here are specific tips to include in a CEO letter you should send to employees and workers:
4.  Expect questions, listen and provide a mechanism for employee feedback.
It is normal (and expected) for your employees and workers to have questions about vaccines. You can provide reliable information about COVID-19 and vaccines from trusted sources, and encourage employees and workers to talk to their doctor or healthcare provider. 

Employees and workers may also have questions about company policy and their healthcare benefits. Make sure you have mechanisms in place to field questions and feedback directly from employees and workers so you can quickly address concerns.

Explaining your company’s vaccine requirements to the public and press

Employers can expect media interest and press questions about their vaccination policies for workers and customers. Having thought through the practical questions of a vaccination policy and articulated the reasons behind the policy to your employees is excellent preparation for answering questions from the public and press. Here are a few additional considerations to help you represent your policy with confidence.

Rely on simple, straightforward messages.

Lean on those messages if you get tough questions.

Your safe, simple, straightforward messaging can answer almost any question that arises.

Make use of employee feedback and the rationale you gave your workers.

Tell the press or public the same compelling story you told your employees — for example, about the costs your company bears for COVID-19 hospitalizations, the number of days lost to quarantines or long-term illnesses, and the steps your company has already taken to incentivize the vaccine. Also, share anything valuable you learned from gathering employee feedback, including support for a vaccination requirement or current levels of vaccination.

Be real. Be yourself.

The messages in this guide are intended to be safe ground to allow you to answer questions without going too far or setting off a debate. Still, you should make them your own and feel comfortable with what you are going to say. Whatever you choose to say, own it. Presenting your workplace vaccination policy with thoughtfulness and confidence will help dispel skepticism from the press or public. 

Share powerful stories. If you have lost employees or family workers to COVID-19, if they have expressed regret about not getting vaccinated, if you can describe the damage that the Delta surge has caused in your community, these will help create understanding and sympathy, and help your audience see you as a full person, not just an employer.

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Language Do’s & Don’ts

Do Say

the pandemic

ending the pandemic

back to life, back to “moments we miss” with family & friends

safe and effective vaccines

authorized by the FDA based on clinical testing

get the latest information

keep your family safe; keep those most vulnerable safe

public health

medical experts and doctors

community immunity

community vaccination

personal responsibility

protocols / guidelines

essential workers

policies that are based on facts/science/data

inform, educate, answer questions

people who still have questions about vaccines

Don't Say

the coronavirus

defeat/crush/eliminate the virus


back to “normal”

the “vaccine” (singular), injection, shot

a vaccine developed quickly

Operation Warp Speed; Emergency Use Authorization

there are still things we don’t know

keep your community safe; keep your country safe

government

scientists

herd immunity

mass vaccination

national duty

orders / imperatives / decrees

frontline workers

policies that are sensible / impactful / reasonable

convince

people who are hesitant, skeptical, resistant, or “anti-vaxxers”

Additional Resources