Vaccination Mandates: Controversial, but Effective

By Lianne Jacobs
Health professional gives man in face mask vaccine for controversial mandates - Vitality

While some may consider employer vaccination mandates to be controversial, evidence shows that vaccination mandates work. Vaccination mandates themselves are nothing new – the first vaccination mandate in the United States was put in place in 1809 for smallpox vaccinations, which the Supreme Court upheld in 1905 and 1922. And today, school-aged children in the US are required to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, mumps (except in Iowa), rubella and chickenpox.

Even though vaccination mandates in the US have been around since the 19th century, employer vaccination mandates for COVID-19 have been polarizing. Yet despite predictions that nearly half of employees would quit if ordered to get vaccinated, most workers are complying.

United Airlines was among the first large companies to announce their plans to mandate the vaccine, and it recently announced that 99.5% of their employees have in fact been vaccinated, with fewer than 600 of their 67,000 employees choosing not to get vaccinated. Tyson Foods saw an increase in vaccination rates from 50% to 91% as a result of their mandate, with a few weeks still remaining before their deadline. California was the first state to mandate vaccinations for all health care workers, and several major hospital systems in the state, including Kaiser Permanente, Stanford Health Center, and Cedars Sinai have since reported vaccination rates of 90%, 94% and 97%, respectively.

Of course, vaccination mandates are not the only strategies to consider. We at Vitality have seen the effectiveness of alternative strategies first-hand. Through our program, employers were able to offer Vitality points to members who received the vaccine, which resulted in 165,544 members submitting proof of vaccination to earn their reward as of October 2021. We leveraged proven behavioral science strategies when we launched a campaign to target our vaccine-hesitant members. The campaign featured individualized communications, as people respond better to messaging targeted at the individual rather than the collective level, loss-framed messaging, rather than gain-framed communication, as well as personalized reminders and nudges, in addition to personalized goals, rewards, and additional educational materials. Our results showed that 76% of those who were originally undecided about getting the vaccine ultimately received it, and 35% of those who said they were not planning to get vaccinated ultimately chose to get vaccinated as well.

Whether you’re a fan of the carrot or you prefer the stick , it’s hard to argue with the facts around vaccination mandates. And the fact of the matter is – vaccine mandates work.

Lianne E. Jacobs, MPH, Health Communications Strategist, has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University.  She is the only indoor cycling instructor who can’t ride a bike.  She enjoys traveling the world, laughing at her own jokes, and tricking her husband into eating baked goods made with hidden vegetables.

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