Working with Small Businesses to Get COVID-19 Vaccinations for Essential Workers

State, local, tribal, and territorial health departments can help small businesses support their workers in getting COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they are eligible. Small businesses with 50 or fewer employees make up the majority of firms in nearly all essential industries; these businesses range from small neighborhood grocery stores to construction companies. Many essential workers from small businesses are eligible for vaccination now or will be eligible soon. Small businesses often have fewer resources to devote to worker safety and health and might need additional support because they face a riskier economic environment and have greater financial limitations than larger businesses. Health departments can help small business owners determine their employees’ eligibility and provide information about when, where, and how they can be vaccinated.

Reaching Small Businesses

The best way for health departments to reach small businesses is through trusted sources where small business owners already go for information, such as:

  • Local chambers of commerceexternal icon: In the United States, there are more than 4,000 chambers with at least one full-time staff member, and they vary in size and scope. Most chambers are devoted to a specific geographical area, but some focus on businesses in a specific industry sector or a specific kind of business owner (e.g., racial/ethnic minority groups, women). Many chambers offer workplace health and safety programming for their members and already are providing information about COVID-19 and the vaccines to prevent it.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance companies: These organizations, with their extensive networks of small business employers, might be potential partners in planning and executing large events with multiple employers.
  • Local chapters of professional organizations, unions, and state licensing agencies.

Preparing Small Businesses for Vaccination

Logistics

Because of their small size and limited resources, most small businesses will not be able to individually host workplace vaccination clinics.  There may be instances when several small businesses can collectively provide a worksite vaccination clinic in their community. However, in most situations, employees working in small businesses will need to use community-based vaccination strategies.   It is important for health departments to provide information through trusted partners, such as those mentioned above, about available providers and how to make appointments.

  • Emphasize to small business owners that COVID-19 vaccines are available free of charge to all people living in the United States, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status.
    • Minimize collection of personally identifiable information and allow workers to be vaccinated even if they do not have a driver’s license or other identification with an in-state or in-county address.
    • Employees should not be asked to pay any fee, including a vaccine administration fee, and they cannot be denied a vaccination if they do not have insurance coverage. Providers may bill their insurance plan or program for the administration fee if they have insurance.
  • Tell small business employers the types of documentation if any, workers will need to bring with them to prove their eligibility to receive a vaccine as an essential worker while vaccine supply is limited. Although this can vary across providers, offer information about what is typically being accepted as proof of eligibility in your area. Small businesses might not have employee ID badges, but employers could supply letters or vouchers.
  • Encourage small business employers to follow best practices for workplace vaccination programs, such as staggering vaccination times to ensure continuity of operations and offering flexible, and non-punitive sick leave options (e.g., paid sick leave) for employees who experience side effects after vaccination.
  • Share the Health Action Alliance’s Small Business Guide to COVID-19 Vaccinesexternal icon.

Building Vaccine Confidence

Point employers to the Essential Workers COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit to help them build employees’ confidence in these important new vaccines. The toolkit will help employers across various industries educate their workforces about COVID-19 vaccines, raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination, and address common questions and concerns.

Staying Safe Before and After Vaccination

After employees are fully vaccinated, they may be able to start doing some things they had stopped doing because of the pandemic. However, be clear with small business owners that they and their employees should continue to follow the Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to COVID-19 before and after vaccination.

  • Everyone at the workplace should continue wearing well-fitting masks, social distancing, and frequently washing hands.
  • Employers should continue to encourage employees, regardless of their vaccination status, to stay home if sick.
  • If other workplace health and safety measures, such as engineering controls (e.g., barrier protections) were installed, they should remain in place after employees are vaccinated.

Keeping Communication Lines Open

Continue to share updates with small businesses periodically, such as when your area moves into the next vaccination phase and eligibility widens. As vaccines become more widely available, share information with small businesses about new providers and clinics in the area, and let them know the dates and times of any community vaccination events.

Page last reviewed: April 15, 2021