Roughly 46% of the construction sector workers recently surveyed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh said they would probably or definitely decline the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Construction Dive on May 5, 2021. Their belief that they do not need the vaccine, concern that it will cause adverse side effects, distrust in the government and the vaccine itself, and preference to just wait and see, were cited as the prevailing reasons for their hesitancy to get the shot. Read the full Construction Dive article here.

The study’s findings were released on medRxiv, a website for medical studies, on April 28, 2021. The findings are based on the data researchers gathered from 732,000 Facebook users, including the 3,400 construction workers who were surveyed. The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed.

Coming from the highly resilient construction industry, which has seldom balked at delivering the essential services that customers and the general public requested during the pandemic, these findings are eye-opening and must be addressed swiftly by public health and industry experts from across the country. One can only hope that construction business owners and leaders will work together to find convincing ways to motivate their employees to voluntarily get the shot. Doing so will help advance the industry’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the serious public health risks and ensuing economic disruption that could arise if a disproportionate share of construction workers spread the virus.

The dilemma that all employers will continue to face as their employees return to work was first commented on by this Blog on March 21, 2021 in “Getting Your Employees Vaccinated.” That commentary included an excerpt from Construction Executive on January 5, 2021, which featured guidance from the EEOC suggesting that employers – regardless of the industry – should require their employees to get vaccinated, subject to certain limitations. Read the full article for a thoughtful discussion of the issues and risks that employers should be aware of when considering mandatory vaccination policies.

However, events stemming from the most recent, controversial vaccination guidance released by OSHA on April 20, 2021, suggest that mandatory vaccination policies may not prove to be a simple solution for the construction industry. Read more from Engineering News-Record on May 3, 2021, “OSHA Imposes New Guidelines for Employer-Required COVID-19 Vaccines.” To add clarity and fairness to the current predicament, the CDC, OSHA, and EEOC must provide the construction industry with consistent, common sense guidance. Thus far, they have failed to do so.

But the construction industry is not the only one that needs prompt attention. While construction workers seem to be more hesitant than many of their peers, there are still plenty of good reasons for all employers to be concerned about the health and safety of their employees and customers. An additional 25% to 34% of the workers surveyed from several other common employment categories said they would be hesitant to get the shot, including workers involved with (1) transportation and material handling, (2) building and grounds cleaning/maintenance, (3) sales, (4) food preparation and service, and (5) personal care and service (not healthcare).

Everyone must continue to do their part if we are going to effectively contain the virus.