Fall Means FLU (shots)

It’s Time to Schedule Vaccine Clinics and Educate Employees

 Imagine Hit me with your best shot, the unofficial theme of every employer flu shot clinic, playing on a loop while every employee receives a flu vaccine. It’s heartening to see so many coworkers opting for the latest flu protection; every jabbed arm represents one less worker potentially sidelined by fever, nausea, headache and more.

Influenza (flu) is getting second billing on the vaccine front because of sickness star COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Here’s why the workplace should embrace the availability of the latest flu vaccine and how you can either schedule a successful flu shot clinic at your place of business or promote receiving the vaccine off-site.

Influenza is serious.

These days, it seems as if you can’t turn on the news without learning about the latest COVID-19 vaccine. The novel coronavirus and its Delta variant may hog the spotlight, but a nasty viral veteran awaits to emerge in the Fall with fury. Influenza (commonly called flu) is exceedingly worse than a typical cold. It can demand weeks of recovery. In some cases, it can cause death.

But don’t worry – there’s a shot for that. And though it’s not 100% effective, opting for the flu shot in 2021 could be an especially good idea. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Hospitals still need to dedicate resources to treating those who suffer from severe cases. An onslaught of flu victims could result in an overwhelming influx of patients and not enough medical professionals or equipment to adequately help them.

But what’s the big deal? How much absenteeism does the flu really cause?

What this question really hides is dollar signs. Related to the queries Will the cost of an employer-led flu clinic be worth it and How much productivity can I lose to the flu, that number varies. However, flu is highly contagious and can spread through an office like wildfire. Imagine just a few employees sidelined perhaps for weeks, and the effect usually becomes apparent. A flu vaccine is likely much less expensive to offer to employees. Plus, a clinic is often included in your health plan. It’s a win-win for employers.

It’s impossible to do anything but estimate the cost of absenteeism related to the flu, but according to flu.gov, it’s estimated that 111 million days of work are lost each year due to the virus. That amounts to approximately $7 billion in productivity loss. These are staggering numbers, to be sure – and they can be lowered through vaccination.

But what if the vaccine isn’t formulated to address the latest strain of flu?

For those workplaces returning to some semblance of water cooler chatter after so many months of remote work, the comments about flu vaccines run the gamut from believer to passionate objector. I get the shot every year, and I’ve never gotten sick is a popular refrain. So too is I’ve never gotten that shot, and I’ve never had the flu either.

The truth is that no flu shot is going to be 100% effective. The vaccine is formulated based on the best data scientists gather about the three or four strain most likely to win “Most prevalent of the year,” and it’s never simple to guess. Even a strong hypothesis can miss the mark. Still, when the strain of prevalent flu matches the vaccine, the shot is extremely potent.

That means the coworker strutting around saying I’ll never get that flu shot might be living on borrowed time. This could be the year he catches the flu, misses weeks of work, and decides that opting for a flu shot would have been a supremely good idea.

Are there side effects from the vaccine?

Here’s side effect number one: You’re likely protected from contracting a nasty virus. Other side effects that can occur with the flu shot (according to the CDC) include low grade headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, fatigue, and soreness at the point of injection. Severe reactions are extremely rare.

 Who can benefit from the flu shot?

Nearly everyone aged six months and older can benefit from the flu shot. Pregnant women are often recommended to receive it because it does double-duty; the vaccine actually offers their unborn baby limited immunity upon birth. Vaccinated children have a much lower chance than other children of dying from influenza. The elderly are at higher risk for serious flu complications; therefore, the flu shot is a sound idea for them as well.

Is there a special flu shot for people over the age of 65?

There is. It’s called the trivalent flu vaccine, and it’s extra-strong in terms of creating an immune response. However, older adults in this age category can also opt for the normal flu shot. Learn more about the high-dose one here.

Is there an option other than the shot?

For the needle-averse, there’s good news: There is a nasal flu vaccine that, according to WebMD, can work just as well as the syringe method. However, those under the age of 2, over the age of 50, and pregnant women are not advised to vaccinate in this manner. It may not be available as part of your on-site flu shot clinic, either. Be sure to ask before you tell employees that it will be.

What does the CDC say about the flu vaccine?

Get it. That’s the main message from the CDC, which looks at the risk versus reward of contracting the flu compared with receiving the shot. Rare exceptions occur, but on the whole, most of the population can benefit from the vaccine.

Tell me about this year’s vaccine.

The CDC continually updates its information about this year’s vaccine to make it the most accurate possible. Any licensed vaccine provider is fine, they say, including approved vaccines not made with any eggs (good news for people with allergies). Note that the CDC does declare that getting vaccinated too early is a no-no; therefore, don’t opt for the vaccine in July or August. September and October are prime time vaccination months, but even stragglers can see benefits all the way through January.

In 2020, only about half the U.S. population opted for the flu shot. Therefore, manufacturers did not manufacture enough vaccine for every single American. Demand is expected to soar in 2021 thanks to COVID, so opting for your flu shot in that September-October time span is a sound idea.

It is possible to be infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

You read that correctly. And though at this moment it is believed that COVID-19 may be ultimately deadlier than the flu, having both simultaneously is both dangerous and likely exceedingly uncomfortable.

You’ve convinced me. How do I set up an effective flu shot clinic?

Do you work with a wellness coordinator? If so, call that person and ask how much guidance they can offer. Some will schedule the entire event; others will give you resources to do so yourself. A few elements are crucial for a successful workplace vaccination program:

  • Select the vaccine administrator. Will an outside provider pay a visit to your office, set up in the break room and start vaccinating? A community immunizer is an option as well. Find one of those here.
  • How will employees pay for the flu shot? Communicate in a clear, concise manner if employees are responsible for some or all of the cost. Note: If you can fund the flu shot clinic in-house, that may encourage more employees to vaccinate.
  • Schedule the clinic for an opportune time – preferably before late October. Fall is prime time for flu season.
  • Still mostly remote? Discover where your employees can receive the shot off-site and offer an incentive for those who select it. Effective rewards include time off of work to obtain the shot, department contests, etc.
  • Gain buy-in from multiple departments and C-suite members.
  • Advertise, advertise, advertise. The CDC has some informative flyers here.
  • Make sure employees know whether their dependents are also eligible for free or reduced-cost flu shots.

Dangers from COVID-19 and the flu are real and often preventable. Making sure your employees are educated regarding the facts of both vaccines and the viruses will help them make informed decisions. You don’t have to do this alone, either: for questions regarding health and vaccine clinic events, contact W3 wellness coordinator Trish Blocker at 727-522-7777 or tblocker@w3ins.com.

Here’s to a flu season where more people than ever before choose vaccination. The double-dose of COVID and flu viruses make it more important than ever.