How to Talk to Employees About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Feb 3, 2021

While it seems many Americans are eager to get the COVID-19 vaccine, others are equally as hesitant. If you're hearing concerns from your employees about taking the vaccine, consider talking to them about it and providing resources to aid their decision-making. "There’s a lot of information circulating about the vaccines and understandably many questions will accompany what people are reading in the news or even hearing from their own social circles,” says Laura Strange, National Grocers Association's Senior Vice President, Communications and External Affairs.

Strange continues, “Being open, transparent, and ready to answer questions are going to be key to supporting employees in their decisions to get the COVID vaccine. Given the essential nature of the supermarket industry, it is critical to get as many grocery employees as possible vaccinated against COVID-19. Employers should lean on local public health officials as well as the CDC to help inform their employees about the effectiveness of the vaccine and to build trust.”

Retailers must approach any conversations with employees about the vaccine with care, as it is ultimately up to the individual whether or not to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put together several resources to help you talk to your employees about the vaccine, and a few independent retailers have shared their experiences about what they've done to encourage employees to get it. 

CDC Resources

The CDC has created a toolkit to help employers educate essential workers about the COVID-19 vaccine. The toolkit, which can be found in its entirety here, will also help you raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination while addressing common questions and concerns. Within the toolkit, find FAQs for both employers and employees, talking points for meetings with your team, sample messages and newsletters to share with your staff, and even stickers for vaccinated associates to wear. 

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Sample messaging that addresses FAQs about the vaccine includes:

You can help stop the pandemic by getting a COVID-19 vaccine. 

To stop this pandemic, we need to use all our prevention tools. Vaccines are one of the most effective tools to protect your health and prevent disease. Vaccines work with your body’s natural defenses so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed (also called “immunity”). 

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. 

The U.S. vaccine safety system makes sure that all vaccines are as safe as possible. Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at keeping you from getting COVID-19. Experts also think that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19. These vaccines cannot give you the disease.

After COVID-19 vaccination, you may have some side effects. These are normal signs that your body is building protection.

You will still need to wear a mask and socially distance after getting each shot of the vaccine for now.

As experts learn more about how COVID-19 vaccination may help reduce spread of the disease, CDC will continue to use the latest science to update the recommendations for protecting communities. 

In addition to the CDC toolkit and resources, FMI has created a sample letter template for frontline essential workers entitled to COVID-19 vaccine prioritization that your employees can use.

If you haven’t already started talking to your employees about the vaccine, use the above resources to initiate those conversations so that they’re ready once eligible.  

"The vaccination process has already begun for essential workers in some states, and ultimately, independent grocers are going to have to make sure that any vaccination programs they roll out to their workforce are done in a consistent and transparent manner that’s applied across the organization," says Strange.

What Retailers Are Experiencing

While some employees are excited to qualify for essential worker status and get the vaccine as quickly as possible, others might be less enthusiastic. “Some employees are hesitant and they receive no pressure from us. We respect their decision,” says Gerry Kettler, director of consumer affairs at Neimann Foods. “We encourage them to ask their doctor if they have any concerns.”

In addition to respecting an employee's decision about whether or not to get the vaccine, retailers can help remove barriers to access it. “Helping your employees understand the vaccine is important to both the business, their safety, and the safety of shoppers is paramount right now,” says IGA CEO John Ross. 

Lead By Example

One way to do that? Get the vaccine yourself, and encourage other eligible members of your team to do so. Jennifer Bosma, owner of two Harvest Market IGA stores in California, received her first dose in mid-January and has shared her experience with her team to help alleviate fears and set a good example, in addition to sharing CDC, Department of Public Health, and local hospital information. She says those efforts have helped boost confidence in the vaccine. “We have about 60 percent of our eligible employees saying they’ll get the vaccine.”

Kettler and the team at Neimann Foods are taking a similar approach. He says, “Our HR department and many people in our office have volunteered to get the vaccine first, hoping to pave the way for our associates to feel comfortable with the process.”

Offer Time Off

Kettler and Bosma are also ensuring their associates make time to get the vaccine, even if that means taking time off. 

“We will pay for their time to take the shot if it is scheduled during their shift,” says Kettler, adding that since the shots aren’t available in-store, they worked with a local hospital to reserve a day for Neimann Food employees to receive the vaccine. “We wanted to make it easy and comfortable,” he says. That effort has paid off, as Kettler says he expects about 40 percent of eligible employees will have receive their first dose by the end of this week. 

Bosma plans to stagger employee shifts to allow two days off after the second dose, since that one has shown stronger side effects post-injection. By offering extra days off and ensuring coverage in various departments, the message is clear: employers fully support doing whatever it takes for their employees to get the vaccine.

But some employees won't initiate getting the vaccine on their own. Retailers can gently encourage their teams to leverage their essential worker status to get the vaccines and do their part to help keep everyone safe. Start by sharing the resources available from the CDC, like a staff newsletter about the vaccine, putting up flyers in the break room, and having conversations about it. Talk to your local health department about coming to the store or setting times aside for your essential employees to receive the vaccine. Eliminate as many obstacles as possible and use your resources.

IGA is committed to sharing as many resources as possible to help retailers fight COVID-19. Visit IGA ALERT for updated information and resources. 

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