New survey suggests role of employer may be critical to optimizing uptake of COVID-19 vaccine

Canadians and people around the world anxiously await the arrival of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Some are also anxious about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of vaccine benefits, up to 20-30% of Canadians are vaccine hesitant—having wavering or uncertain views on vaccination—and an additional 5-10% have strong anti-vaccination convictions.


Vaccines prevent millions of deaths worldwide every year, and have saved more Canadian lives than any other medical intervention in the last 50 years.1 Vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination attitudes may be contributing factors in outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases in Canada in recent years.2,3 These same attitudes may also hinder Canada’s recovery once an effective COVID-19 vaccine is available.


Results of a six-week survey conducted by the UBC Pharmacists Clinic in conjunction with UBC Health, Wellbeing and Benefits and UBC Occupational and Preventive Health, revealed a clear need for employers to provide employees with factual, reliable vaccination information. The 586 UBC faculty and staff respondents mirrored the typical distribution of Canadian attitudes toward routine vaccinations: 68% said their routine vaccinations were up-to-date, 28% were either somewhat up-to-date or did not know their status, and 3% were certain that they were not up-to-date.


Respondents listed their key sources for vaccine information as health care providers (40%), official government sources (30%), employers (10%), friends and family (9%), and on-line sources (6%). However, only one in four respondents had discussed their vaccination needs with a health care provider in the past year.


An association was observed between respondent confidence, vaccine knowledge and vaccine acceptance. This is consistent with evidence suggesting vaccine hesitant people tend to be misinformed, express reluctance toward vaccines, and often have difficulty articulating specific concerns.5 


Findings suggest that as an employer, UBC has a role beyond including vaccination costs in the employee benefit plan. UBC has an opportunity and a responsibility to share factual vaccination information from reliable sources that enables employees to make better vaccination decisions and access vaccination services when they are needed. 


“As a result of these findings, UBC is actively taking steps to increase employee access to information about vaccinations and vaccination services,” says Barbara Gobis, director, UBC Pharmacists Clinic. “Our ultimate goal is to optimize vaccination literacy and thereby optimize vaccine uptake to protect the health of UBC’s most important resource – its people.”

As a whole, these findings serve as a call to action for employers across the province to be messengers of reliable vaccination information for their employees. Institutions such as government and public health agencies are urged to partner with employers to get factual vaccine information into the hands of working Canadians.


Background/Quick Reference Facts

  • Vaccines are second only to clean water in terms of health benefits to humans.1
  • In Canada:
    • Despite access to vaccinations, Canadians are not meeting vaccination levels required to protect individuals and communities through herd immunity.2 
    • Vaccine uptake in Canadian adults against a target of 80% coverage – 2019 results
      • 33% pertussis vaccination coverage in adults
      • 42% influenza vaccination coverage 
      • 58% pneumococcal vaccination coverage in older adults.2
    • Vaccination attitudes
      • Up to 5% of Canadians have strong anti-vaccination attitudes.3
      • 20-30% are considered vaccine hesitant and tend to delay or partially complete the recommended series of routine vaccinations for self and children.3, 4
      • The majority generally follow vaccine recommendations of health experts.
  • In this study:
    • UBC employees overall
      • Want access to factual, reliable vaccination information.
      • See their employer as having a responsibility to deliver factual, reliable vaccination information to employees
    • UBC employees who are vaccine hesitant
      • Had positive attitudes towards vaccination, were less informed and also less willing/able to seek reliable, accurate vaccine information.
      • Considered their health care provider their preferred source for information, yet most had not talked to a health care provider about vaccines in over a year.
    • UBC employees who are vaccine resistant
      • Had negative attitudes towards vaccination, were less informed and relatively disinterested in factual information.
      • Having access to reliable information and vaccination services, ideally in the workplace, is key to employee uptake of existing vaccinations and future COVID-19 vaccinations.