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Addressing Concerns About the COVID Vaccine With BIPOC Employees

The COVID vaccine is finally here. While it’s not available to everyone quite yet, more and more people are becoming eligible to get vaccinated every day.

Overall, the vaccination rate among White people is over twice as high as the rate for Hispanic people (19% vs. 9%) and nearly twice as high as the rate for Black people (19% vs. 11%). This begs the question, why aren’t BIPOC people rushing to get in line in high numbers?

Let’s be honest, history plays a role in vaccine hesitancy. There’s a complex history that must be acknowledged when trust is being requested by medical professionals and the healthcare industry. Other factors may also play a role in the lower numbers of people of color signing up for the vaccine including the contradictory information and differing messages related to the safety of the vaccine, and the need to get vaccinated. On April 13, the Federal Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control recommended the U.S. pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to address concerns about “extremely rare” side effects which could result in additional hesitancy.

While the reasons behind the hesitation are understandable, there are many important reasons to get vaccinated and employers can play a role through education and encouraging their BIPOC employees.

So, what can organizations share with employees who may be hesitant to get vaccinated?

It's Necessary

Here’s a fact we can’t deny, COVID has led to the death of over half a million people in the United States. People of color have borne the brunt of the impact, experiencing the highest number of COVID cases and seeing COVID-related deaths at much higher rates. According to Boston University, Black people account for 15% of all COVID-19 related deaths in the United States, where race is known. This is disproportionately high. Additionally, studies have shown that having certain underlying health conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes, increases the risk of severe illness due to COVID infection. Unfortunately, people of color are disproportionately impacted by each of those health conditions and are generally more likely to have an underlying health condition. With that being the case, it’s fair to say that getting vaccinated is in everyone’s best interest and, quite frankly, it’s the option most likely to save lives.

Protect Each Other By Protecting Yourself

COVID is not about any one person; if it were, getting vaccinated might not be as critical as it is. However, COVID makes us responsible for our own health AND everyone else’s. That means that, just like we can get each other sick, we can help keep each other healthy. People of color are more likely to live in homes with other people spanning multiple generations. They are also more likely to live in densely populated areas. Both living conditions increase the possibility of having high-risk individuals in close proximity at any time. Vaccination not only protects the individual and their health, but also protect the health of everyone else –family, friends, and the broader community, by default.

We Get Our Lives Back

Who isn’t ready to get back to normal? We know that we can’t rush back to the way things used to be and, honestly, those days may be over. However, once people are vaccinated, we can start to shift towards the “new normal” (normal 2.0?). We can start to experience more of life as we knew it and start to figure out how to adapt to life as it will be.

Education is Key

Fear is understandable. To combat fear, education is key. Encourage your employees to do their research and verify the sources of any information they see or hear. Encourage them to arm themselves with the facts so they’re making an informed decision.

Leaders who are not aware of the history should also educate themselves so they understand the impact of systemic racism and the role it has played in the lives of people of color and how this has related to their health. It’s important to understand the experiences of people of color so any conversations you have with your employees about subjects that may impact them differently, are had with sensitivity. Ultimately, your employees cannot separate the impact systemic racism has had on their lives from the lens with which they view the world, including the information they receive. For that reason I advise employers to use a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging lens with everything you do, including all employee communications.

We will get through this together and it starts with education, understanding, communication and empathy.

Looking for more resources around supporting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in your workplace? Join this conversation led by OneDigital leaders as they tackle what it means to create a culture of allyship, promote perspective shifts for leadership and employees alike and provide practical steps to enact change. Register for the upcoming Employer Advisory Session, Recognizing Power and Privilege in the Workplace: What You Can Do To Create a Culture of Allyship.

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