Coronavirus Vaccines Could Mean a Speedy Economic Recovery, But As Many As 60 Million U.S. Workers May be Hesitant to Take Them
A rapid rollout of the new coronavirus vaccines is our best hope for ending the pandemic in the U.S. and spurring a rapid economic recovery. With the scientific challenge of developing effective vaccines behind us, the country now faces the twin challenges of distributing the vaccine and persuading people to take it.
A new ZipRecruiter survey of about 2,600 respondents suggests that more than four in ten American workers are reluctant to get a Covid vaccine when it becomes available. Even among healthcare workers—those slated to receive the vaccine first—reluctance is widespread.
But employer recommendations could change their minds. Among more hesitant respondents, about a third would take the vaccine immediately if their employer required it as a condition of returning to the workplace.
Employer Guidance Could Speed Up Vaccination Efforts
Employer vaccination requirements or recommendations could partially overcome employee reluctance to get vaccinated immediately.
- 56% of respondents said they are open to getting a Covid vaccine as soon as it is available.
- The remaining 44% said they are not open to getting vaccinated immediately. Part of their reluctance is due to the novelty of the vaccine—35% of those who expressed hesitancy said they would be open to getting a vaccine later in 2021. A similar share (36%) would take the vaccine sooner if their employer required it as a condition of returning to the workplace.
2. Covid Survivors Could be Exempted from Workplace Vaccination Programs
If you’ve already survived a bout of Covid-19, it is safe (and possibly even beneficial) to get a vaccine, but you can afford to wait a few months, say experts. That’s because the disease confers natural immunity.
So there is a scientific basis for exempting employees who have tested positive for Covid antibodies from vaccination requirements. That said, people who have already had Covid are similarly open to getting vaccinated immediately (57%) as those who have not had the virus (56%).
3. Workplace Covid Testing Programs Could be a Successful Backup
Among all respondents, the vast majority said they would be willing to take a weekly Covid test in order to return to the office. Even among those who are reluctant to be vaccinated, willingness to be tested is relatively high. That said, about 10% of overall respondents are neither willing to take a Covid vaccine nor to undergo weekly Covid tests. Their objections could raise challenges for workplace Covid safety programs.
In the initial months, as vaccination rates rise, employers could encourage employees to practice social distancing, wear masks, and undergo frequent testing. As inexpensive, rapid, non-invasive tests become more widely available, openness to testing could grow even more widespread. Again, confirmed Covid survivors could be exempted from this requirement.
- 87% of all respondents said they would willingly participate in an employer-administered Covid testing program.
- That share includes 94% of those who are open to taking a vaccine right away, but only 77% of those who are reluctant to being vaccinated.
- 80% of all respondents would even be open to taking a weekly Covid test on their own time in order to return to the workplace.
- That share includes 89% of those who are open to taking a vaccine right away, but only 68% of those who are reluctant to being vaccinated.
4. Demographic, Socioeconomic, and Industry Differences in Openness to Covid Vaccination
There are significant differences in willingness to get a Covid vaccine across racial/ethnic, gender, and age groups. These differences present challenges for policy makers as they design public health campaigns and assist employers.
- Black or African American respondents were significantly less likely to report being open to getting vaccinated immediately (46%) than white (61%) or Hispanic respondents (60%).
- Women (51%) were also significantly less likely than men (63%) to say they were open to taking the vaccine.
- Younger workers are significantly less likely than older workers to say they want to take the vaccine as soon as possible. There was no statistically significant difference between Generation Z and Millennial respondents, who had a 45% chance overall of saying they would be open to getting vaccinated immediately. Willingness was significantly higher among Generation X (57%) and Baby Boomer (69%) respondents.*
- Lower-income workers are significantly less likely to want to be vaccinated than higher-income workers. For example, willingness to take a Covid vaccine immediately ranged from 50% of workers with incomes between $0 and $25,000 to 78% of workers with incomes between $175,000 and $200,000.
- Many experts have argued that healthcare workers should get vaccinated first, but only 55% of respondents who work in the healthcare industry said they were willing to get a vaccine right away—fewer than in several other industries.
5. “Mandatory” Vaccination Policies Could be Counterproductive
Historically, policies that make continued employment contingent on vaccinations have often triggered legal challenges and backlashes from labor unions and the public. In some cases, the end result has been a lower vaccination rate than under voluntary policies. (We explore this issue further in forthcoming research.) Our survey suggests that policies phrased as “mandatory” will be significantly less popular than those couched as recommendations or guidelines.
- A slim majority of respondents (53%) said they want employers to require employees to get a Covid vaccination prior to returning to the workplace.
- But when the policy was phrased as a “mandatory vaccination policy” and respondents were told that labor unions generally oppose vaccination mandates, the margin flipped and 55% said they would not support such a policy. Even among people who instinctively agree with a policy, support can fall if its framing is polarizing.
Recommendations for Employers
With vaccines starting to become publicly available, it is a good time for employers to develop and communicate their workplace Covid vaccination policy. Here are some important considerations:
- Will you recommend or require Covid vaccination? Note that you have a range of options. For example, many hospitals and health systems have for years recommended vaccines and told employees that they can either get a flu vaccine by a certain date each year or wear a mask when seeing patients. Some have required staff to wear a badge on a lanyard stating whether or not they have had a flu vaccine. Others have required vaccination in order to work in certain settings. These examples show that there are many options between merely suggesting vaccinations and mandating them as a condition of continued employment.
- If you do decide to require vaccinations, which exceptions will you allow? Before announcing a policy, think carefully about which exceptions you’ll be prepared to make. Will you exempt employees who have already had Covid? Those who are pregnant? Those with religious or ethical objections? Those who have had allergic reactions to past vaccinations? And then will you notify other employees that some have been exempted?
- Will you use any carrots or sticks? Think carefully about whether you want to incentivize or enforce compliance. But note that mandates and employment terminations can generate a backlash and that monetary incentives can undermine people’s altruistic response, causing them to respond with suspicion (“If they have to pay me to take this vaccine, it must be dangerous.”) Consider sharing your policy with a small focus group of employees first and seeing how they respond.
- Are you prepared to fight legal challenges if they arise? If you plan to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment or of working in particular settings, consult with employment law counsel, and figure out ahead of time how far you will go to defend and enforce your policy if it is challenged in court. If you are not prepared to back it up, consider adopting a voluntary policy instead and relying on persuasion rather than coercion.
- To whom do your vaccination-related communications appeal? Design your vaccine-related communications to appeal to women, minorities, and younger workers in particular—those most likely to be skeptical about the benefits of a vaccine, worried about potential risks, and reluctant to get vaccinated. Consider recruiting a diverse team to help formulate your vaccination plan together with you.
- Study best practices on encouraging healthful behaviors. Experts on public health communication have tested different approaches and developed data-driven best practices. Whether you only read short articles, like this one by economist and public health expert Emily Oster, or academic journal articles like this recent one on risk communication during Covid, or reports on lessons learned like this one from the Brookings Institution, investing some time in learning from the experts can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your communications.
ZipRecruiter surveyed 2,670 active job seekers who reside in the U.S. between December 3 and December 8, 2020. Active job seekers are defined as logged in, registered job seekers who visited ZipRecruiter’s job marketplace during that time period.
52% were women and 47% were men. The slight gender imbalance is due to higher survey response rates among women. 25% were Boomers, 41% Generation X, 26% Millennials, and 6% Generation Z.* 49% of the respondents were white, 27% black/African American, 14% Hispanic/Latino, 3% Asian, and 7% of a different race. Blacks were over-represented and whites under-represented in the survey relative to their share of the U.S. workforce. 8% of the respondents said that, to the best of their knowledge, they have already had Covid, whereas 92% said they had not. Totals may not add up to one hundred percent due to rounding.
*Generation Z is defined as people born since 1997, and who are therefore 23 years old or younger in 2020.
Millennials are defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, and who are therefore between the ages of 24 and 39 years old in 2020.
Generation X is defined as people born between 1965 and 1980, and who are therefore between the ages of 40 and 55 years old in 2020.
Boomers are defined as people born between 1946 and 1964, and who are therefore between the ages of 56 and 74 years old in 2020.