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04 July 2023

Dr Charles Levinson: The Importance of Workplace Flu Vaccinations

Dr Charles Levinson: The Importance of Workplace Flu Vaccinations

Anybody who has suffered from an unpleasant bout of influenza understands the debilitating impact the virus can have, even in young and otherwise healthy individuals. There is a common misconception that catching the flu just means feeling slightly under the weather – that is not the case.

Influenza, with its associated complications, kills many thousand people every year. Between 2010-2020, there were 270,351 deaths due to flu and pneumonia in England & Wales – they are recorded together as many cases of the latter are directly attributable to an influenza infection.

That is clearly very significant and in addition there are considerable complications leading to missed work or education and adding to hospital pressures from those who have contracted the virus. These figures are not limited to the elderly and infirm.

Improving responses to flu pandemics has been a passion of my career in medicine. Respiratory infections have had a unique impact on the world over the last few years and our understanding of how to combat them has evolved during that time.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions have been widely deployed, with their impact and effectiveness yet to be fully analysed. Vaccinations on the other hand have indisputably saved thousands of lives, allowing the world to return to normality.

COVID-19 vaccinations have understandably been the centre of attention recently, but the positive impact of influenza immunisation must not be understated – preventing infection, hospitalisation and risk of death. Why is this relevant to your business or organisation?

An estimated 185.6 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2022 (ONS), with ‘minor’ illnesses, including influenza, making up 29.3% of that number. This equated to 5.7 days were lost per worker. Flu causes unplanned absence with many people off at once and is no respecter of key staff. For any organisation, big or small, the impact is significant.

Reducing that number benefits the individual, the organisation and the wider economy/society through a workplace flu vaccination programme.

Employers have the option to turn to organisations such as Doctorcall, which is a well-established provider independent of the NHS, delivering flu jabs to a significant number of individuals over the years. This serves as a complement to the NHS effort, extending vaccination coverage to segments of the population who are not eligible for the flu vaccine through the health service.

Currently, there is a high demand for these services, as organisations of various sizes are responsibly taking measures to safeguard their workforce, leading to positive societal benefits.

Being vaccinated against influenza has numerous advantages. Primarily, it reduces the chances of severe illness and worse – a recent study demonstrated that among adults hospitalised with the virus, vaccinated patients had a 26% lower risk of intensive care admission and a 31% lower risk of death compared to those who did not have the flu vaccination. This is one study of many, but the headline is clear – flu vaccination saves lives.

This is illustrated clearly in the following graph from the ONS. This shows how when flu vaccination was extended to all adults over 65 the mortality rate plummeted. Halving from roughly 60,000 a year, to under 30,000 – considering population increase, that is a significant drop.

The nature of influenza means that once it’s in the building, it is very likely to infect other members of the team – turning an individual issue into a company-wide one. Protecting staff therefore makes considerable sense. This particularly applies to those who work in enclosed spaces and who use public transport. Flu outbreaks at best hinder productivity and at worst grind the entire operation to a halt.

The flu virus itself regularly mutates meaning that annual updates are required to provide the best protection. We offer the quadrivalent flu vaccine. This provides cover against more strains than previous vaccines and it is now first choice in the UK. Vegan vaccines are also available which are not grown in vivo, they contain less allergens and are acceptable to a number of individuals who may not accept a traditional vaccine.

Alongside other corporate health services, workplace vaccinations are also seen as a positive workplace benefit. Helping to attract talent to your organisation and keep it there – demonstrating to employees that you are taking your duty of care seriously. We have found feedback on this especially encouraging, with businesses of all sizes reporting a positive staff response.

Having an on-site programme saves time for employees and increases uptake; this can be beneficial even to staff entitled to an NHS vaccine.

In short there is a good business case for flu vaccination.

Discussing the flu season when temperatures are hitting 30C may seem unusual, but it’s through making preparations now that you can reduce the impact of seasonal influenza during the winter months. It’s too late to start planning when the virus is sweeping through the office. If you give your staff the protection they need before that happens, all parties involved will feel the benefits.

 

 

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