Flu Season Has Arrived, but it’s Not Too Late to Offer Flu Shots to Your Employees
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all people (without contraindications) aged six months to 65 years should receive a seasonal flu vaccine annually.1 And still, as many as 50 percent of eligible people who have access to the vaccine do not get their flu shot.2 Knowing that the influenza virus is responsible for millions of cases of illness and thousands to tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year3 – and many more globally – begs the question, “Why aren’t more people protecting themselves with a flu shot?” Arguably more important than finding the answer, however, is identifying ways to encourage more people to get vaccinated against the flu – but this teeters on the cusp of a “chicken-or-the-egg” situation.
One matter that’s not up for debate is that workplace flu shot clinics are among the most effective ways to boost vaccination rates among a workforce and a community as a whole, with many studies showing that vaccination rates among employees and their families increased significantly following the implementation of an on-site flu shot event.4 At Concentra®, our commitment is to support employers in their efforts to protect the health and safety of their employees by providing workplace flu vaccination events. With a comprehensive catalog of mobile and episodic service offerings available to employers – including on-site flu shot clinics for larger organizations and in-center flu shots for smaller workforces – choosing Concentra as your occupational health care provider can help boost employee vaccination rates, reduce the risk of a flu outbreak within your organization, and keep your employees healthy and productive this flu season.
When Leaves Begin to Fall, Flu is on the Rise
By now, most people are aware that the fall and winter months are considered peak flu season, and the CDC formally recommends that all people eligible for the vaccine receive their flu shot by the end of October.5 This leads many employees and employers to assume that by the time November rolls around, it’s too late to get a flu shot – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the CDC specifically addresses this scenario by providing the second-best recommendation that even when a flu shot is not received by late October, there is still much to gain from getting immunized well into January and even beyond.(5) When considering the many “late flu seasons” we have seen in recent years, during which the highest number of recorded flu cases occurred in February6, it would be interesting to know how many of those may have been preventable with what is typically labeled a “late” vaccination and, because of that, foregone. And, while fall is synonymous with flu season for most people, you may be surprised to learn that flu season stretches all the way through May across a great deal of the U.S., further supporting the appropriateness of a flu shot campaign despite October having come to a close.
There is even the argument by some that delaying your flu shot closer to the late-October deadline (or further) could be advantageous, with certain studies concluding that vaccines received earlier in the season – around August – provided notably low levels of protection during peak flu season.7 Still, following the CDC’s official guidelines is recommended when possible.
Employee Hesitation Regarding Flu Shots
Successfully encouraging employees to get their flu shot – whether at a work-sponsored event or elsewhere – has long been a challenge for employers and HR managers.8 Knowing what factors may be discouraging employees from getting a flu shot can certainly be helpful in understanding how to adjust your strategy and elevate vaccination rates. Evaluating the efficacy of previous flu campaigns within your organization and across others may also help to reveal those factors. So, where do you start?
It's already been established that offering an episodic, on-site flu shot clinic boosts workforce vaccination rates, meaning convenience is likely a factor in an employee’s decision to get their flu shot. Inconvenience, therefore, may be a barrier to immunization. When an employee has to leave work, book their own appointment, wait in line, or sit in traffic to obtain their flu shot, they are understandably less likely to do so. Bringing the flu shot to your workplace alleviates all these pain points and prevents absenteeism as an added benefit.
But perhaps you’ve already hosted workplace vaccine events without success – where could you have gone wrong? John Beshears, assistant professor in Harvard Business School’s Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit, suggests taking a closer look at the placement and visibility of your on-site flu event.9 Rather than setting up shop in a basement or a remote area of your facility, having a flu shot event setup in a main thoroughfare – an area by which employees pass multiple times greatly – can dramatically encourage participation. Another common pitfall in workplace vaccination fairs is that employees are required to pre-register. Whether an employee forgets to register and misses the deadline or simply doesn’t want to take the time to fill out paperwork, a registration requirement can lead to lower participant numbers. Fortunately, many people will register – which gives you a more accurate estimate for planning purposes – but ordering additional doses for walk-up participants who pass by your convenient and visible flu shot clinic and decide they’d like the vaccine – may be a worthwhile consideration.
Please note: Concentra’s episodic flu shot services can be provided in the workplace for employers with a minimum of 50 participants. For smaller workforces, our colleagues can provide recommendations on the most convenient way to offer flu shots to your employees in one of our 520+ centers.
Research also suggests that financial hesitation plays a strong role in an employee’s ultimate decision not to receive their flu shot, with 84 percent of participants (who did receive their flu shot) in one study citing affordability as the primary driver of their final decision.(4) Employees may not be aware of the fact that seasonal flu vaccinations are often fully covered by insurance and, when they’re not covered, employers are generally able to provide the service to their employees at a relatively minimal cost.
Another longtime roadblock in the path to increasing vaccination rates in the workplace is misinformation – or a lack of information altogether. As an employer, it is critical to provide your employees with accurate, current information regarding the flu vaccine to help clear up confusion and correct misinformation that may be discouraging someone from getting their flu shot. Some of the most common myths regarding the flu shot – many of which you have likely heard or even attempted to dispel among your employees – include:
- The flu shot doesn’t work
- The flu is dangerous
- I’m healthy, so I don’t need a flu shot
- The flu shot gives you the flu (or makes you sick)
First, the flu shot does work. Now, that is not to say that it prevents 100 percent of flu cases 100 percent of time, but that has never been the claim. Instead, the flu vaccine – when well-matched to the year’s particular strains of flu – can reduce the general population’s risk of flu illness by up to 40 to 60 percent, according to the CDC.10 Should a person become ill with the flu after receiving a flu vaccination – which is possible and does occur – the length and severity of their illness tends to be reduced. In a 2021 study, it was found that vaccinated patients “had a 26 percent lower risk of intensive care unit (ICU) admission and a 31 percent lower risk of death from flu compared with those who were unvaccinated.”11
Looking back on the history of the flu vaccine and influenza in modern times, we can see undeniable evidence of the efficacy and benefit of flu immunizations. During the 1918 flu pandemic, before the availability of a vaccine, up to 20 million people died across the globe, which is in part credited for the surge in vaccine research and pandemic preparation that followed. In 1945, the first flu vaccines were administered to the masses, and when the next influenza pandemic hit – about a decade later – the death toll was remarkably lower at just 1.1 million globally. Following an isolated flu outbreak at Fort Dix in 1976, even more resources were put toward the prevention of flu pandemics, with a formal flu vaccination program launched. The most recent flu pandemic occurred in 2009 with a death toll of about 500,000 and, again, further research and advancements helped to increase flu protection. In the 2019-2020 season – which is widely considered the most appropriate for comparison due to the effect the COVID-19 pandemic on the years that followed – it was estimated that the flu vaccine prevented up to 7.5 million flu-related illnesses in the U.S. alone.12
As for the second and third myths regarding the flu shot – that the flu isn’t dangerous and that healthy people don’t need the flu shot – we can see from the numbers above that the flu can unquestionably be dangerous, having killed millions of men, women, and children in just a little more than a century. While it is true that overall healthy people are at less risk of developing severe complications from the flu compared with high-risk individuals, the flu can be easily transmitted from a healthy, unvaccinated person to an at-risk, vaccinated person – leading to a potentially life-threatening illness for the latter. To protect your employees from an outbreak in the workplace, as well as to protect those employees who are most vulnerable, it is essential that vaccination rates are as high as possible – even among healthy employees.
Now we come to one of the most frequently given reasons for not wanting to get the flu shot: that it will make you sick. This is also a myth. None of the three available types of flu vaccines – those made with inactivated flu virus, those made with proteins from a flu virus, and those made with weakened, live flu virus (nasal mist) – can cause the flu. There is some pseudo-merit to this myth, however, as some people do experience flu-like symptoms, including muscle and body aches and fever-like chills, for about 24-48 hours after receiving the flu vaccine – but, again, the flu vaccine does not cause the flu itself.13
Make it a priority to provide your employees with clear, accurate, visible messaging regarding these points. While education is an integral part of a successful employer-sponsored flu campaign, it is worth noting that employees in previously mentioned studies stated that educational efforts played a lesser role in their decision to receive the flu shot compared with convenience and affordability.
What to Do If There’s a Flu Outbreak at Your Office
Before a flu outbreak occurs within your organization, put together a strategic plan for prevention and, if necessary, response. Should employees become ill with the flu, consider relaxing your attendance policies to discourage a sick employee from returning to work too soon and infecting others. If your workforce comes to an in-person office, encourage frequent handwashing, disinfect surfaces regularly, and avoid close contact and the sharing of food and utensils. Still, prevention is the primary goal – and the most effective way to prevent a workplace flu outbreak is widespread vaccination among your employees and their families with a convenient, on-site flu shot event.
Fly Through Flu Season with Confidence
Year after year, fall – and flu season – seem to sneak up on individuals as well as employees. When possible, it’s best to schedule your work-wide flu shot clinic prior to the end of October – but, if the calendar has gotten away from you or you have only recently decided to offer an on-site flu vaccination fair, rest assured that there is still time (and reason) to do so. For more information on protecting your employees from flu illness this season with a mobile, episodic flu shot clinic, contact a Concentra representative today or visit our website. In the meantime, continue encouraging flu-prevention behaviors at your workplace and consider developing and disseminating materials to your employees about the efficacy, convenience, and affordability of a work-sponsored flu shot.
- Who Should and Who Should NOT Get a Flu Vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last reviewed August 25, 2022.
- “The CDC wants you to get a flu shot before what could be a bad flu season,” by Rob Stein. NPR Health. October 4, 2022.
- Disease Burden of Flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last reviewed October 4, 2022.
- Cori L. Ofstead, et al. Effectiveness of Worksite Interventions to Increase Influenza Vaccination Rates Among Employees and Families. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. February 2013; 55(2): 156-163.
- Who Needs a Flu Vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last reviewed September 13, 2022.
- Flu Season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last reviewed September 20, 2022.
- Jill M. Ferdinands, et al. “Intraseason waning of influenza vaccine protection: Evidence from the US Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network, 2011-12 through 2014-15.” Clinical Infectious Diseases: An official publication of the Infectious Disease Society of America. March 1 2017; 64(5):544-550.
- “HR’s recurring headache: Persuading employees to get a flu shot,” by Caroline Hroncich and Sharif Paget. Benefit News. October 31, 2018.
- “Why Don’t More People Get Flu Shots at Work?” by Roberta Holland. Working Knowledge. Harvard Business School. October 5, 2016.
- Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do Flu Vaccines Work? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last reviewed August 25, 2022.
- Jill M. Ferdinands, et al. “Does influenza vaccination attenuate the severity of breakthrough infections?” A narrative review and recommendations for further research. Science Direct. Vaccine. June 23, 2021; 39(28): 3678-3695.
- History of infectious disease outbreaks and vaccines timeline. Mayo Clinic. Accessed October 24, 2022.
- Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last reviewed August 25, 2022.