Vaccinating doctor hero

The Biggest COVID-19 Vaccination Challenges Organizations Face Today

As we move further into 2021, COVID-19 vaccinations continue to challenge individuals and organizations, alike. 

Many business leaders are still struggling—or purposely waiting—to make decisions about mandating vaccinations…or simply encouraging them. And once a decision is made, what’s the next step? How is the strategy best executed? 

At the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), we’re conducting ongoing research to keep tabs on the constantly evolving choices and challenges organizational leaders face when considering vaccination policies and strategies.  

In our most recent survey on employee vaccination policies, Getting Employees Vaccinated, we asked respondents to briefly tell us about their organizations’ biggest challenges related to the COVID-19 vaccine (take our March Getting Employees Vaccinated survey now and you’ll be the first to see the latest benchmarking results). 

Availability and access pose stumbling blocks

In the U.S. and elsewhere, thousands of people feel their stress levels rise as they spend hours online (or on the phone) daily trying to locate vaccination sites or add their names (or those of loved ones) to waiting lists for the COVID-19 vaccine. Similarly, business leaders confirm that the greatest challenge for their organizations at present is availability of vaccines and gaining access for their employees. 

Almost two-thirds of the 400+ survey participants took time to write-in descriptions of their situations—30% of whom cited issues of supply, availability, or access to the now-several vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. and other locations. 

For many, access and availability are particularly complex challenges because business operations and employees are scattered across regions and countries worldwide. Rules and regulations in those areas vary, too, adding another layer of challenges. In respondents’ words: 

  • We are a global firm and access to the vaccine varies dramatically by country and location. We need to be mindful of the varied laws and requirements. 
  • Access. We have workers in America who are impacted by the slow rollout, and we have workers in Canada who have virtually no access to a vaccine right now. 
  • Supply vs demand. We have team members located in every state across the U.S., so managing all the different local and state guidelines/eligibility for vaccine, which all vary, [is an issue]. State systems are slow/crashing and providers have to go back multiple times to try to confirm eligibility and sign up. 
  • The wide variety of approaches to vaccine deployment – country-by-country and state-by-state—makes it hard to create company-wide communications [and policies].

Employee attitudes are a concern for leaders, too

 Almost 20% of the organizational leaders who shared their challenges with i4cp reported that employee resistance—or at least serious concerns about the vaccine—raised problems for organizations, whether they chose to mandate or simply encourage vaccinations for their workforces.

  • We haven’t surveyed many of our team members, but those we have are nervous about vaccination because of the lack of information on possible long-term side effects.
  • People are afraid to get the vaccination. There is not enough information or trust that the vaccine is safe.
  • Getting our employees to make educated decisions on taking the vaccine and not being totally influenced by social media and negative unsubstantiated information [is difficult].

While there was every indication in the data that organizations are making sure that workers understand that vaccination exception accommodations (for health concerns, religious objections, etc.) will be made, leaders also voiced potential challenges associated with non-vaccinated employees – and with keeping track of who has, or hasn’t, received the vaccine. A couple of examples:

  • Getting all employees vaccinated … and dealing with employees who choose not to be vaccinated but want to come into the office.
  • We will not require vaccination, but finding out who has, who hasn’t, and when they got it will be critical to informing our return to work timeline and the precautions/rules we keep in place for those who wish to return. We're looking to open an online form for employees to tell us their plans for vaccination, when they got it, etc.. but it is a touchy subject among leaders and we know some employees consider this sensitive information and do not want to share it with us. Navigating the right path is tricky.

 Other vaccine-related challenges that surfaced through the research:

  • How to handle communications about vaccinations with employees effectively
  • Potential legal fallout from mandating vaccinations, complying with varied regulations across locations, privacy concerns, etc.
  • How to guarantee overall safety in organizational facilities (or in interactions with suppliers, customers, and others) when some workers refuse vaccinations
  • The potential for conflict between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees
  • Confusion and lack of guidance resulting from failure to create organizational policies that provide clear guidance vaccination-related issues

The survey results reflect the fact that many business leaders are still working to make sense of chaotic conditions and how to approach COVID-19 vaccinations for their workforces thoughtfully, respectfully, legally, and—most of all–safely.

i4cp will continue to track the evolving strategies organizations are applying. Our next vaccination-related survey is now live—please take the short survey by March 23 and you’ll be the first to receive the benchmarking results.

We hope you’ll visit the i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center to share your experiences and ideas as we all strive to gain insights to make our workplaces—onsite, remote, or otherwise—safe and productive in our COVID-challenged world.

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.