Some Lobby for Flu Shots, Others Just Go to Their Lobby

The flu can have a tremendous effect on the workplace and the economy.

October 3, 2013

Flu shot clinics are popping up in office lobbies and company conference rooms nationwide, but it wasn’t always so, said one expert who recalls that getting employers to offer the vaccine at the start of flu season was a challenge.

“There was a point in time about eight to 10 years ago when it was really hard to get employers’ attention,” saidDr. Derek van Amerongen, chief wellness officer for HumanaVitality, a Chicago-based wellness program sponsored by insurance giant Humana. “Now I’m pleased that very few employers don’t have a flu shot clinic on site. Nothing is as effective both from a medical standpoint and in terms of cost effectiveness. Flu shots have the highest ROI.”

Van Amerongen said that in early 2000 the vaccine was recommended only for adults over age 50 and those with serious medical problems, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since expanded its recommendations to include everyone over 6 months old. He said that the flu can have a tremendous effect on the workplace and the economy and encouraged employers to take it seriously.

“What bothers me as a physician is that people seem so blasé about it,” he said. “It’s a very serious disease for the public health and for employers. Tens of thousands of people will not be available for work. A large number of employees stay home because they have to stay with a sick child. “

The CDC estimates that businesses lose $10.4 billion annually in flu-related medical costs and $6.2 billion in productivity, so hosting an on-site flu vaccine clinic is a smart business decision, he said. More immunized employees can mean fewer employees missing work and greater productivity. The CDC offers a tool kit to help employers set up a workplace flu shot clinic seasonal flu vaccine tool kit for businesses and employers.

“For an employer, the relatively nominal cost of a flu vaccination program can likely be easily offset by reducing sick days by a small number,” van Amerongen said. “If the individual who is sick is a particularly key person, this offset can be very substantial. For a small company, what is the cost if the computer billing system goes down for a few days and the IT person is sick?”

In industries like health care, getting immunized is a must. In September, the New York State Department of Health began requiring health care workers to get a flu shot or wear a mask to work. The mandate applies to anyone who comes into contact with a patient from doctors and nurses to volunteers.

In order to meet the increased demand, Mobile Health, an employee health-screening company, launched a network of workplace flu shot clinics in New York City called Flu Shot Express. Employees can either get vaccinated at work or at any Mobile Health location, said Rafael Landeiro, spokesman for the New York-based company.

Health care workers “are working with some of the most vulnerable populations: the elderly and those who have health conditions,” he said. “If they don’t get a flu vaccine, they are just spreading the virus.”

It’s important to remember that influenza is highly contagious and those who are infected should avoid contact with others, van Amerongen said.

“People are worried about missing work or using their vacation days, but the best thing you can do for your colleagues is stay home,” he said.

Rita Pyrillis is Workforce’s senior editor. Comment below or email Follow Pyrillis on Twitter at @RitaPyrillis.