A Little Spent on Flu Prevention Now Can Avert Lots of Costs in Lost Productivity Later

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Sept. 9 — Employers can, and should, take a proactive approach to seasonal flu to avoid incurring substantial costs in lost productivity, a corporate wellness services provider asserts.

According to Omaha, Neb.-based TotalWellness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates almost 111 million workdays are lost every year because of seasonal influenza, at a cost to employers of $7 billion. Outbreaks “can begin as early as October,” the company noted in an Aug. 27 press release.

Although there are many more flu vaccine options than there used to be, “most employers are sticking with the lowest cost alternative, which doesn't give them the best protection,” Alan Kohll, founder and CEO of TotalWellness, said in a Sept. 4 interview with Bloomberg BNA. Trivalent vaccines, which protect against the three strains of seasonal flu scientists believe will be most prevalent in any given year, are often the cheapest, but are subject to shortages as vaccine manufacturers increasingly replace them with quadrivalent vaccines (which, as the name suggests, protect against four flu strains), Kohll explained.

“It may be $10 more per shot for one more strain, but you're offering your employees 25 to 30 percent better protection,” he said.

Employers that offer employees flu shots on the premises typically get about 35 percent participation, which is not great but is certainly better than the 10 percent uptake on employees offered vouchers to go to a pharmacy or clinic, Kohll said.

Employee education to combat persistent myths about flu vaccines causing the flu can further increase participation, he added.

Beyond Flu Shots

The TotalWellness press release included such additional tips as:

• improve office's hygiene practices;

• review policies for paid time off, sick leave and telecommuting;

• communicate to employees about the signs and symptoms of the flu, flu shot myths, sick time policies, wellness plans and flu shot clinic dates and times;

• have a contingency plan in place to help maintain normal business operations if key employees are out sick or other disruptions occur; and

• ensure that employees are aware of company health plan details and that they know whom to call with questions.


To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com