What’s a “Vaccination Ambassador”?

The CDC is encouraging employers to appoint “vaccination ambassadors” to motivate employees to get vaccinated.  Although I’m sure that the CDC has good intentions, this latest pronouncement is fraught with pitfalls.  This is just my opinion, of course, but here are the problems I see:

  • Vaccination ambassadors are also employees and are being encouraged by the CDC to share their vaccination experiences with other employees, who are reticent about getting vaccinated. Sounds nice, right?  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, first of all, you shouldn’t be requiring any employee to disclose anything about their own medical condition, and discussions about vaccines could end up in that territory.  It’s one thing to say that the “shot doesn’t hurt,” but the ambassador should not be discussing medical conditions (or religious beliefs).
  • Employees may ask the vaccination ambassador about the effect of the vaccine on their own medical conditions or concerns. Unless the ambassador is a physician (and even then, it’s probably not a good idea), the ambassador should not be opining on side-effects or other consequences of taking the vaccine.

There’s more to the vaccination ambassador concept and CDC recommendations than what I’m writing about here.  Other things that the CDC is advocating make sense.  For example, considering paid time off to employees to get vaccinated is probably a good idea, and generally it’s legal and appropriate to request a copy of a vaccination “receipt,” as long as an employer stores the proof of vaccination  securely — not in the employee’s file.

Engaging a professional, who is knowledgeable about the vaccine and how to field questions about it, is probably a good idea.  Training an employee to become the point person for advocating vaccines concerns me a lot.  If this is something your organization wants to do, it’s critical that you address it with employment counsel to make sure that the proposed vaccination czar ambassador receives the right training, is familiar with the health privacy issues, and understands federal and state laws governing disability and religious discrimination (including reasonable accommodations).

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