HKS Authors

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As eligibility for the Covid-19 vaccine expands to all Americans and the country moves towards a full reopening, durably returning to normal life depends on vaccine uptake. The U.S. developed and produced vaccines at record speed and, initially, the rate of daily administered doses rose sharply from January to April 2021. Since May 2021, however, the pace of rollout has declined and many remain unvaccinated. Service sector workers are at the center of commercial life and staffed the front lines during the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Understanding the barriers holding service workers back from accessing vaccines now is crucial for ensuring their protection and for securing a national recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The Shift Project surveyed workers from March 2021- May 2021 at large firms in the service sector, including in grocery, retail, food service, pharmacy, and delivery, asking a range of questions about Covid-19 vaccination and what incentives their employers had provided. (See methodological appendix for more details.) Nearly 9,000 workers reported on their vaccine status, sentiments, and barriers. We find that half of frontline, service sector workers reported being unvaccinated as of early June 2021. Without the ability to take paid time off to get the vaccine or recover from side effects, workers struggle to make vaccination work. We find vaccination rates increase when employers support and facilitate access to Covid-19 vaccination. Workers with access to paid sick leave, for example, were much more likely to be vaccinated. Reducing the many barriers to vaccination is especially important for service workers who suffer from low and volatile incomes, lack of access to paid sick leave, job insecurity, and unstable schedules that make it harder to access needed health services.


Bellew, Evelyn, Annette Gailliot, Daniel Schneider, and Kristen Harknett. "Half of Service Sector Workers Are Not Yet Vaccinated for COVID-19: What Gets in the Way?" Shift Project Research Brief, June 2021.