Flu season hits harder some years than others, but it always hits hard.
Each year in the U.S. 140,000 to 710,000 Americans are hospitalized with flu and its complications with up to 56,000 of them dying.1 Aside from the staggering personal toll, the flu can take a big bite out of business: Last year’s flu cost businesses $15.4 billion in lost employee productivity2.
There are several steps you can take to mitigate the impact of the flu on your business.
Clear up misconceptions
The infection rate and resulting costs stay high because only 4 in 10 U.S. adults typically get vaccinated for the flu.1 The top barrier to getting a flu shot is that people don’t believe it works, according to a survey by UnitedHealthcare. Although flu vaccination effectiveness can vary, studies show that a well-matched vaccine can reduce the flu rate between 40 percent and 60 percent.2 While the flu shot may not be perfect, it is the best defense against the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).3
Another barrier is that people believe the flu shot will actually give them the flu, claiming the vaccine caused flu-like symptoms.4 Although some people report having mild reactions to the flu shot, in randomized, blinded studies, where some people received inactivated flu shots and others got salt-water shots, there were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.5
In September, UnitedHealthcare launched a campaign to tackle these objections and promote flu vaccinations. Using CDC data that tracks outbreaks across the U.S. with an interactive map that is updated weekly, the campaign targets the outbreak zip codes. The campaign includes paid search and digital banners on the Weather Channel targeted to members in top flu outbreak areas.
Help your employees get vaccinated
Another obstacle preventing immunization? Our culture of busyness. Many people just have too much to do, and too little time to get it done.
The CDC suggests businesses make sure employees know where they and their families can get a flu shot. One way UnitedHealthcare makes this easier is through a site called “Wipe out the flu” to help anyone, including employees, find places offering flu shots.6 Make it convenient for your employees by posting or emailing locations of retail pharmacies and convenient care clinics near the workplace. Remind them that their health plan covers any associated costs.
Host an on-site flu shot clinic
You can take it one step further and host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace at no or low cost to the employee, according to the CDC.7 This option works especially well if the employer has an on-site occupational health clinic, to “catch” employees who aren’t particularly diligent about going to the doctor. Take parents who may be vigilant about getting family members vaccinated, but put off their own flu shots. An on-site flu shot clinic is a great way to reach this group.
For example, Worksite Wellness Adult Flu Clinics, offered by UnitedHealthcare, are on-site clinics that are simple for employers to implement and can be combined with other programs and services, such as biometric screenings, by clients eligible to purchase the Worksite Wellness Health Screening Solutions program. Adult Flu Clinics are available October through January to eligible adults 18 and older, and require a minimum of 30 participants per event. The bottom-line is these on-site flu clinics offer easy administration for employers, easy participation for employees and have a 98 percent overall satisfaction rate.
The most successful clinics follow a few best practices:
- Communication is the key to employee participation. Raise awareness of the clinic through company newsletters, email blasts, fliers, handouts and an update on the company website. Promote the convenience and ease of getting a flu shot at work.
- Educate employees about why they should participate and explain the dangers of the flu. Getting vaccinated provides protection to the employee, while also contributing to broader protection for the community – including the young, elderly and those who cannot be vaccinated. A study recently published in the journal Vaccine found that educating people about the community benefits of maintaining high vaccination coverage increased their willingness to get vaccinated by 7.3 percent.8
- Incentives drive action. Consider offering some sort of incentive to employees who participate in the flu shot clinic.9 There are not many forces that more powerfully drive behavior than incentives.10 Think about what would motive your workforce to participate and boost the numbers getting vaccinated.
- Record, analyze and improve for next year. Document results by tracking data related to employee sick days, incidences of respiratory illness and physician visits during flu season to illustrate the value and benefits of the clinic.11 Use this information to illustrate the value of a flu clinic to leadership, and shed light on any areas of improvement for the next clinic.
Although the flu season isn’t predictable or 100 percent preventable, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect your employees and their families from contracting the flu. Talk to your UnitedHealthcare representative to learn more about these and other tools the company offers to help you and your employees before, during and after the flu season.
1 National Early-Season Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, November 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/nifs-estimates-nov2017.htm
2 National Early-Season Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, November 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/nifs-estimates-nov2017.htm
3 Vaccine Effectiveness - How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last reviewed: Oct. 12, 2018. Page last updated: Oct. 12, 2018. Accessed Oct. 19, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm
4 Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
5 Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
6 Wipe out the flu. UnitedHealthcare. https://www.uhc.com/health-and-wellness/health-topics/flu-shots
7 Make It Your Business To Fight The Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/business/toolkit_seasonal_flu_for_businesses_and_employers.pdf
8 ‘What have you HEARD about the HERD?’ Does education about local influenza vaccination coverage and herd immunity affect willingness to vaccinate?
9 Kohll A. How To Plan A Flu Shot Clinic For Your Employees. Forbes, Sept. 6, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2017/09/06/how-to-plan-a-flu-shot-clinic-for-your-employees/#2591bae87aa5
10 The power of incentives https://medium.com/brainsfeed/the-power-of-incentives-8b8944b8665e
11 Kohll A. How To Plan A Flu Shot Clinic For Your Employees. Forbes, Sept. 6, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2017/09/06/how-to-plan-a-flu-shot-clinic-for-your-employees/#2591bae87aa5
Certain preventive care services, including immunizations, are provided as specified by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), with no cost-sharing to you. Some plans may require copayments, deductibles and/or coinsurance for these benefits. Always review your plan documents to determine your specific coverage.