The 2020 fall flu season coincides with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Both infections can be, at the least, uncomfortable and, at the worst, deadly.
And the combination of the two has some public health experts calling this fall a possible perfect storm of infectious illnesses.
“We’re really headed into uncharted territory with a global pandemic converging with the annual flu season,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital BlueCross. “Fortunately, some of the same preventive practices for COVID-19, such as hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing, could help keep our flu rates down.”
While there is still no vaccine for COVID-19, there is a flu vaccine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people over the age of six months receive it.
“Getting a flu shot can prevent the flu or at least reduce the severity of its symptoms,” Dr. Chambers explained. “And this year, it also could help ease the strain on a healthcare system still coping with a lingering pandemic.”
For businesses, a harsh flu season can impact not only employee health, but also the company’s bottom line, due to increased absenteeism and lost productivity. Employers can play a major role in encouraging people to get flu shots, and insurers are helping through education and outreach.
Capital BlueCross, for example, is making it easier for employers to promote flu shots, even as many employees continue to work remotely. Instead of traditional onsite visits, Capital BlueCross’ health education consultants offer employers virtual education sessions for employees about flu prevention. The consultants explain the differences between the cold and the flu, when to seek medical attention, and key prevention techniques.
The company also is providing a toolkit to employers to begin raising awareness about the need for flu vaccines, with messages for launching in the fall and continuing through January.
The plan mirrors recommendations from the CDC, detailed in the most recent report from Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices: “Providers should offer influenza vaccine routinely, and organized vaccination campaigns should continue throughout the influenza season, including after influenza activity has begun in the community.”
Capital BlueCross’ employer-focused messaging evolves as the flu season progresses. In September, the message is awareness: flu season is here and it’s time to plan. In October, the focus is on encouraging employees to get the flu shot. If sites aren’t available at the workplace, employers are provided with resources they can email employees or post on internal websites about where to go to get a shot.
By December, Capital BlueCross equips employers with tools to help employees keep focused on healthy behaviors, even after they’ve received the flu vaccine. Those include using the insurer’s Nurse Line and telehealth options and access to Capital BlueCross’ online health education resources. And in January, the prevention message continues, but with an emphasis on encouraging others – coworkers, friends, family members—to get a flu vaccine as well.
“The flu season always brings an element of uncertainty, in that we never really know how fast or far it will spread,” Dr. Chambers said. “But having a flu season plan – and following it – can help employers keep their employees safer, and that in turn helps keep their family and friends safer.”