Workers seem to be biting at the “carrot” approach to nudge COVID-19 vaccinations, a new report suggests.

About half of adult workers report their employer gave them paid time off to receive the shot or recuperate from side effects, while two in three say their employer has encouraged coronavirus vaccination, according to the latest polling from KFF, a healthcare think tank.

And workers whose employers take these approaches are more likely to be immunized: About three in four workers whose employers provided time off for vaccination or recovery said they had received at least one vaccine dose, compared to half of workers whose employers did not. A similar pattern emerged for workers whose employers encouraged vaccination (73% versus 41%).

“Getting more Americans vaccinated isn’t only up to the government,” KFF president and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement. “Even without requiring workers to get a vaccine, employers can play a role by offering paid time off to get vaccinated and encouraging their workers to do so.”

Meanwhile, more than half of overall respondents said employers should require employees to get vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption, and less than four in 10 said employers should offer cash bonuses or other incentives for vaccination. 

Most workers don’t want a vaccine mandate

But a majority of workers (61%) don’t want their employer to institute a mandate, with vaccinated workers evenly split on the issue and unvaccinated workers overwhelmingly opposing a requirement.

Most employers so far have shied away from mandating the shots. But December guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a June court decision upholding a Texas hospital system’s vaccine mandate for employees, have paved the way for employers to pursue such policies.

The KFF survey also found that despite their theoretically higher risk of workplace coronavirus exposure, employees who only worked outside the home (54%) or in a combination of home and outside the home (66%) were less likely than workers who only worked from home (81%) to say they’d been vaccinated.

So what would motivate immunizations among people who are unvaccinated, including those who want to “wait and see” how the vaccine works out for others? 

Companies and states across the country have launched incentive programs to boost vaccine uptake.

Topping the list was full Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines, which are currently being used under a less-rigorous but faster type of clearance called emergency-use authorization. (Only a third of adults overall are actually aware of this authorization distinction, KFF noted, so that data point “may be a proxy for more general concerns about safety.”)

Other incentives unvaccinated respondents said would boost their likelihood of vaccination included being entered into a $1 million lottery, a mobile vaccination clinic coming to their neighborhood (a response voiced by higher shares of Black and Hispanic adults who hadn’t been vaccinated) and being provided free child care while they got vaccinated and recovered from potential side effects.

While vaccination rates remain low in much of the developing world, the pace and demand for doses in the U.S. have slowed. Companies and states across the country have launched incentive programs to boost vaccine uptake.

About 57% of U.S. adults were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday and 66% had received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around 65% of respondents in the KFF survey said they had gotten at least one dose.

Experts told MarketWatch this month that colleges were likely to lead the way on coronavirus vaccination mandates in educational settings once the vaccine gained full FDA approval, and more companies could also consider mandates in that event.


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