What Health & Safety Leaders Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, many employers are encouraging their workers to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. It should come as no surprise given the rest of the pandemic that health and safety professionals will be on the front lines of this effort. We’ve gathered advice from the CDC and other sources on what to expect and how to prepare. 

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The COVID-19 vaccine will help protect workers from getting COVID-19. 

All of the vaccines currently available have been shown to be very effective at preventing COVID-19. In addition, the vaccine may prevent people from getting seriously ill even if they do get COVID-19. Two doses are needed in order to receive the most protection from the vaccine. 

Many employees plan to get vaccinated. 

Over three-quarters (77%) of Americans adults are likely to get a vaccine once it is available, according to US Census Bureau data. While some people still want to wait and see before getting the shot, a growing number say they’ll get the vaccine as soon as possible. That’s promising news for employers who are counting on vaccines to help them return to business-as-usual. 

Vaccine supply is increasing, but remains limited. 

Ultimately, the goal is for everyone to be able to get the vaccine — but we’re not there yet. Experts say it will be still months before everyone who wants the vaccine is able to get it. 

In other words, not all employees will be able to get vaccinated right away. Employers need to keep this in mind as they’re thinking about their return to work and safety policies. 

Employers can make vaccination mandatory — but most will not. 

According to Gartner, 60% of organizations said they would encourage employees to get vaccinated, but wouldn’t require it. Less than a third believed it was ethical to require employees to get the vaccine. 

Instead, 60% said they would provide resources to employees on how and where to get a vaccine once one becomes available. Once supply catches up, some employers plan to host voluntary on-site vaccination clinics. As of right now, employers can’t purchase the vaccine to administer to their employees, but that may be an option in the future.

Masks, social distancing, and other preventive measures will still be necessary. 

Vaccines will go a long way toward helping us return to normal, but they won’t eliminate the need for other precautions — at least, not right away. The CDC says that even people who have received the vaccine will need to continue wearing a mask and avoiding close contact with others. That’s because we don’t know enough about how much protection vaccines provide in real-world conditions, or whether people who have been vaccinated can spread the virus. 

While experts work to answer these questions, it will be important for employers to keep preventive measures and safety precautions in place. They’ll also need to think about how to maintain safety and reassure workers as they return. 

Remote work will continue after the vaccine is widely available.

According to Gartner, 90% of employers will continue to allow employees to work from home at least part of the time. 

Health and safety professionals will need to keep this in mind as they’re planning for the weeks and months ahead. For example, systems will still be needed to deliver training remotely and keep track of worker safety.

Health and safety leaders will play an important role in outreach and education. 

No surprise there. Safety leaders have played a pivotal role in empowering employees with information about COVID-19 and how to protect themselves and prevent disease. Most health and safety professionals excel at communicating with employees on an individual level. Not only that, but they tend to be highly trusted by their employees. 

As a safety leader, you can help by: 

  • Distributing information about the vaccine
  • Helping workers find locations to get a shot
  • Communicating through newsletters, posters, and social media
  • Sharing resources to address vaccine hesitancy and reassure workers about the safety of the vaccine
  • Advocating to managers and supervisors for excused time off for workers to get the first and second dose
  • Continuing to model good behaviors like mask-wearing and hand washing
  • Setting an example by rolling up your sleeve and getting the vaccine

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