How to encourage your employees to stay up-to-date on vaccinations
The impact of COVID-19 on healthcare in the United States cannot be overstated. Outside of the clinical and financial implications, the system of care as a whole has been affected, especially in areas generally considered to be elective or routine such as annual physicals, mammograms and colonoscopies.
For months, physicians and providers were only able to provide essential services that could have life-threatening implications. Elective surgeries and routine healthcare were postponed, creating a backlog of care across the country. A recent NPR poll found that roughly one in every five of those surveyed have had at least one member who was unable to get medical care or who has delayed care for a serious medical problem during the pandemic.
Among the routine care put on the backburner are vaccines, with the World Health Organization and UNICEF indicating the reduced number of children receiving immunizations during this time is universal and the Healthcare Cost Institute found childhood inoculations were down 60% in April 2020 compared to the previous year. It’s not only infants and children being impacted. A Vaxcare analysis revealed vaccine rates for those ages 19-64 dropped more than 60% and seniors over the age of 65 dropped 83%.
The impact on this delayed care, especially the reduction in vaccinations for preventable diseases, has been and will continue to be significant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention among those born between 1994-2018, vaccines prevented 419 million illnesses, 26.8 million hospitalizations and 936,000 deaths. Missed immunizations can leave some adults vulnerable and at risk for preventable infectious diseases leading to illness, disability and even death.
Given the potential for increased infections to the working population, this trend is also of concern to employers. Vaccines, and the lack thereof, are not just a societal issue, but a business issue. Employers facing rising healthcare costs and a shrinking workforce due to the current economy, can ill afford the direct and indirect costs that may occur due to illness and time away from work.
The CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices identified 13 different vaccines for adults age 18 and older that are universally recommended (e.g., influenza), recommended for certain age groups (e.g., human papillomavirus, measles and mumps), and those targeted to individuals with specific risk factors (e.g., hepatitis B and shingles).
To get vaccinations and other routine care back on track, employers must refocus their efforts and communicate to employees around the benefits and importance of preventive care. Like Maslow’s hierarchy, we need to move up from simply surviving during these stressful times to redefining essential care to include caring for one’s self through preventive services that are readily available and safe to receive. To start, employers must first offer credible and consistent communication as a trusted source to reinforce the importance of vaccines and educate employees on the life-threatening infections in addition to COVID-19 that could be avoided with immunizations.
With much of the workforce now working remotely, employers have lost the captive audience at the workplace, and this requires communicating in different and more creative ways:
- Post content such as an easy to understand infographic to the intranet or schedule virtual lunch and learns and other Zoom webinars
- Keep it old school and mail postcards or posters to the home
- Use social channels such as Facebook and Instagram to reach employees and family members over platforms they follow for more general information
- Create short and engaging videos with medical experts or trusted local sources that can be repurposed via the channels noted above
- Establish and make available a special 800 number or nurse line to allow employees to ask questions
Once the value of sticking with a vaccine schedule for both children and adults has been communicated, it’s important to remove barriers to employees and their family members. Given the lack of on-site access, employers are working with health and welfare vendors and their communities to ensure both children and adults can receive the vaccines that they need to stay healthy. Examples of strategies implemented by employers to remove the cost and logistic barriers specific to the flu shot that could also apply to other vaccinations include:
- Change plan design and benefits to ensure that vaccines are covered at no additional cost to the employees
- Offer drive by flu shots in the organization’s parking lot, at a local pharmacy or through a socially distanced event at a local park
- Give access to pharmacist delivered lifestyle management program; provide support virtually and in-person
- Provide flu shot vouchers to all employees regardless of plan
- Organize onsite flu shot clinics in a safe and socially distanced manner
As the pandemic continues to disrupt lives and businesses, vaccinations are an easy way for employers to positively and cost-effectively impact the health and wellbeing of their employees. This is an ideal time to focus on the flu vaccine given the far-reaching impact it can have on other health issues.