Illustration of COVID-19 vaccineUpdated January 24, 2022

Since early 2021, hospitals and health systems across the country have been perfecting their vaccine messaging, encouraging patients and community members to get the shot. As those messages continue, organizations face a new communication challenge — how to get the word out about employee vaccine mandates.

Throughout the summer of 2021, dozens of healthcare organizations implemented vaccine mandates for staff. While mandates haven’t been universal across the healthcare system, President Biden’s announcement in September 2021 meant more organizations started rolling out vaccine requirements. And although the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the administration’s vaccine mandate for large private companies, it decided in January 2022 to support a mandate for healthcare providers that receive federal funding.

If you’re a healthcare communicator tasked with getting the word out about a vaccine mandate, you may have some hurdles ahead of you. Communicating a new mandate to a large group of people isn’t easy, especially when many still feel hesitant about getting the shot. Below are some tips to help you create effective communication about vaccine mandates.

1. Create a detailed and thorough vaccine communication plan

We all get our news and information in different ways — social media, email, newspapers, text messages. It’s the same for your employees. Make sure you’re covering your bases and taking advantage of all your internal communication channels, including:

  • Digital signage
  • Direct mail sent to employees’ homes
  • Employee email and newsletters
  • Employee apps (push notifications)
  • Flyers in common areas
  • Intranet articles and announcements

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2. Be clear about vaccine mandate policies

If there’s one aspect of this pandemic we can agree on, it’s that information is constantly changing. Because of that, your communications must be as clear as possible.

  • Use plain, straightforward language that every employee can understand, including creating communications for non-English speaking employees.
  • Clearly state your vaccine deadline. Some organizations are asking employees to have at least one shot by a specific date. Others are setting deadlines for full vaccination. Whatever your deadline is, make sure employees understand it.
  • Create resources that explain the waiver/opt-out process. These resources should be easy to access and easy to understand. Don’t bury them in a footer on a webpage.
  • Explain how to submit proof of vaccination. Work with your human resources team to develop a streamlined process for employees to submit proof of vaccination. Then, clearly explain this process in your communications.

3. Explain the ‘why’

Simply telling your employees that they must get a vaccine isn’t enough. Showing the “why” behind the vaccine and using storytelling techniques will give more power to your message.

Remind staff that vaccines not only protect them and their family, they also protect patients. Consider sharing COVID-19 patient stories on your intranet and employee communication channels. Or you could take inspiration from Baptist Health South Florida and feature videos from your ICU staff who are facing a surge in sick patients.

When you share these stories, make sure you include the call-to-action to get a vaccine and remind employees where and when they can get one.

Read more: Tips for improving communication with your hybrid healthcare marketing team

4. Get leadership buy-in and participation

Any internal communications campaign needs a champion, and your vaccine mandate is no different. Getting executives and leadership on board to promote the vaccine can help encourage other employees to do the same.

Consider recording or live-streaming video of your executives getting the shot. You can also ask leadership to pen intranet articles, blog posts or emails talking about the importance of getting vaccinated. And if they’re too busy to write the content, lean on writing support to ghostwrite the articles.

5. Reinforce safety data about the vaccine

Much of the COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy today stems from concerns around safety. By including reputable sources, clinical trials and studies in your communications, you can help ease fears among your staff. Remember to break down the research into terms and numbers that are easy to understand and digest — overwhelming someone with data can sometimes do more harm than good.

Your communications team may also want to host a forum where medical experts can explain how the vaccine works and why it’s safe. Consider using a webinar format to live stream the event to your employees and allow them to ask questions virtually.

6. Give managers talking points

Outside of your internal comms channels, your managers will be the frontline communicators for your organization’s vaccine mandate. Make sure you’re giving regular updates to supervisors to communicate the latest information to their staff.

You’ll also want to provide managers with talking points to help them navigate questions from their team. As we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic (or, more often, not seen), the most effective messaging is clear and consistent.

7. Communicate regular updates

While it’s essential to get the message out about vaccine mandates and deadlines, your communication plan shouldn’t stop there. Keep your employees up-to-date with the latest vaccination numbers (% of vaccinated staff) and other important milestones.

One of the most critical updates you can provide is a consistent “thank you.” Thank your employees for stepping up to care for patients, putting in long hours, and getting the vaccine to protect the health of your community. Gratitude and kindness can go a long way in a difficult communications campaign.

8. Consider partnering with other healthcare organizations on your messaging

Most of the time, you probably see other hospitals in your community as competitors. But the pandemic has reminded us that in times of crisis, it’s best to work together.

Consider partnering with other health systems in your region on your vaccine communications campaign. In August, several Cincinnati-area hospitals and health systems announced their vaccine mandate together, which helped reinforce their message. Like vaccinations, there’s strength in numbers.

Rolling out a large communications plan quickly and effectively can be a challenge, especially when it involves something as high-profile as an employee mandate. But honing your message to focus on facts, while weaving in effective storytelling, can get you moving in the right direction. Combine that with clear, straightforward language and you’ll start to see the power of an effective internal comms campaign.

Need support with your next internal comms campaign? WriterGirl is ready to jump in any time. Whether you need email copy, intranet articles or printed materials, our expert healthcare writers can create clear, effective messaging that reaches your employees. Contact our team to learn more.

Editor’s note: WriterGirl Senior Content Writer and Editor Dama Ewbank contributed to this post.