The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and healthcare organizations like Capital Blue Cross are urging flu shots for everyone over six months of age.
Vaccinations are effective in preventing influenza and can reduce the severity of symptoms in those who do become infected, health experts agree. Additionally, flu shots can ease the strain on a healthcare system still coping with a lingering pandemic by reducing the likelihood of hospitalization.
Employers have everything to gain from promoting that message too, according to Nicole Lindsey, manager of Health Promotion and Wellness at Capital Blue Cross.
“Vaccinated employees are less likely to miss work due to illness, and employers are less likely to see productivity declines related to illness,” Lindsey said.
Seasonal flu is a serious disease spread mainly through infected droplets created by coughing, sneezing, and talking.
Flu causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths every year in the U.S., according to the CDC. The organization monitors flu activity to provide public health guidance and inform policy decisions.
The 2020-2021 flu season was mild thanks in large part to COVID-19 mitigation measures such as masking, social distancing, school closures, and travel restrictions. Many of those protocols have been relaxed as COVID-19 vaccination rates increase.
In the last pre-COVID year, 2019-2020, however, the CDC estimated more than 39 million flu-related illnesses, more than 18 million flu-related medical visits, more than 410,000 hospitalizations, and more than 24,000 flu-related deaths.
Because not everyone who gets the flu sees a doctor, goes to the hospital, or dies, the CDC says its estimates drastically underrepresent the true burden of flu in the U.S.
Spreading the word about not spreading the flu is the focus of the CDC’s National Influenza Vaccination Week observed this year from Dec. 5-11. Its flu-fighting suggestions for employers include:
- Encourage vaccinations and consider on-site vaccine clinics to make vaccinations easier to get.
- Create or review sick leave policies that encourage sick workers to stay home.
- Send symptomatic workers home.
- Take simple measures such as providing tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soaps, and hand sanitizer to encourage preventive behavior.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette by reminding people to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow.
Many companies, including Capital Blue Cross, cover the cost of flu shots for employees. Capital also offers some health plan members a “Flu Prevention Toolkit,” that provides resources and information about vaccinations and prevention.