We have all learned so much from COVID-19, and together with technical advances, organizations now have the opportunity to take charge of the flu season like never before.
Medical experts in the United States are cautioning the public to prepare for a challenging flu season. Australia just ended their most severe flu season in five years with three times as many cases than average. According to the Australian Department of Health’s annual Flu Surveillance Report, in 2021, there were only three patients hospitalized due to flu and no deaths. In 2022, there have already been 1,784 hospital admissions and 305 deaths. The data from Australia matters for the United States because we tend to see similar influenza patterns in the Northern Hemisphere after the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there have already been at least 880,000 illnesses, nearly 7,000 hospitalizations and 360 deaths from flu this season. Additionally, the country reported its first pediatric death last week. If another COVID-19 variant surge occurs this winter, and the CDC is currently tracking multiple variants of concern, it could be the first winter in which the United States has had to deal with high rates of infection of COVID-19 and flu at the same time.
For employers, the flu has had a significant impact. According to the CDC, employers lose 17 million workdays lost each year to influenza attributable illness in the United States. This in turn contributes to $15 billion in lost productivity. Infection rates are often highest in school-age children, which impacts workers who need to take time to care for their children at home or take them to see a doctor.
What can employers do to help protect their workforce and their families from the flu?
We have all learned so much from COVID-19, and together with technical advances, organizations now have the opportunity to take charge of the flu season like never before. We offer a new playbook for employers to protect their workforce from airborne disease that includes 1) raising vaccination rates 2) utilizing the latest diagnostics 3) expediting access to treatment within the first 48 hours of symptoms and 4) leveraging automated protocols for efficient administration. Primary.Health’s platform connects all the steps in the playbook. This makes it simple for employers to offer a holistic wellness program that can reduce illness and elevate their brand to employees.
The first critical step is to raise vaccination rates. CDC studies have shown that flu vaccination prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year. During seasons when flu vaccine viruses are similar to circulating flu viruses, flu vaccine reduces the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40% to 60%. Soniya Gandhi, MD, associate chief medical officer at Cedars-Sinai, said in this recent article that the silver lining to Australia’s flu season is that Australia saw lots of influenza A (H3N2), a strain that’s included in this year’s vaccine. While it’s too early to assess the vaccine’s effectiveness in the United States, she said it’s reassuring to know that the current vaccine covers this strain of the virus.
New approaches to increase flu vaccination rates
The effort to increase flu vaccination should be part of the broader message that you as an employer adopt to protect your workforce and their families from illness. Your flu vaccination message carries more weight as part of a holistic program that also includes access to the latest diagnostics, treatment and protocols.
It’s important to note that only 36% of people in the working age group get vaccinated for influenza compared to 77% for COVID-19. It’s clear that past efforts to encourage flu vaccination need revamping. Passive annual reminders have proven ineffective at breaking through workforce complacency, which is now exacerbated by vaccination fatigue. Employers should consider new approaches such as customized vaccination programs that can include multiple types of vaccinations and boosters (flu, COVID-19, shingles, other). These approaches can be combined with surveillance testing in conjunction with return to work initiatives.
Vaccination efforts should also include easy online registration for participants, an analytics dashboard to track progress and perhaps most importantly, a series of customized health and wellness messages to your workforce. Employers that want to be health and wellness innovators are moving in this direction. If you’d like to discuss what a program could look like for your organization, please reach out to us here.