Flu season is right around the corner, and that means it’s not too early for vaccinations. Many businesses find it prudent to make vaccinations available to employees. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, there’s plenty of vaccine available this year even though no one is predicting how severe the season will be.
“So far things have been quiet about flu this year,” says Dr. Mary Currier, state epidemiologist. “What do we know about the strain of flu that may make the rounds this year? Really nothing yet. We hope the vaccine will be a good match to what goes around, but even in mid-season sometimes a new strain starts to circulate, so we’ll know more when we start to see flu in the area.”
She also says there’s really no way to predict the severity of the season. Public health officials have been burned by saying that it’s going to be a bad season that turns out to be a mild one. In Mississippi, the flu season typically runs from January through March.
“We really won’t know how bad it will be until we’re in the middle of it, or even towards the end of the season,” she said. “Folks should go ahead and be vaccinated now, but if they forget and find that they’re unvaccinated even when the flu season has started, even into January and beyond, they can be vaccinated and get some benefit from it.
“It does take two weeks or so for the vaccine to work, so keep that in mind. If you get vaccinated in the middle of flu season, you can still get the flu for at least two weeks after vaccination.”
Businesses find it advantageous to provide vaccinations, often through a service such as Baptist Health Systems Corporate Health. Sales team leader Alicia Carpenter says each year companies find that providing their employees with the flu shot is a low-cost way to invest in employees’ health and wellness.
“Providing flu shots to employees is a win-win situation for employers,” she said. “Employees are the most valuable asset a company has, and keeping them healthy is a primary concern for many employers. Companies that provide flu shots to their employees often see much lower absenteeism during the flu season.”
In turn, that investment in employees’ health stabilizes productivity. It also reduces the risk of extended periods of time off work for employees with other health issues that could be worsened by the flu. Some employers also include spouses of employees in the free vaccinations.
“All of these benefits give companies one of the best benefits of all: reduced healthcare costs,” Carpenter said. “Depending on the location, flu vaccines cost approximately $25 to $40 each. In the Jackson area, they are hovering around $30 per vaccine.”
Baptist Health Systems and other hospitals providing this service go on site to administer vaccines. Clients range from professional firms, such as attorneys and accountants, to large manufacturers and the service sector, including retail, food service and automobile dealerships.
“While there are no direct disadvantages in getting the flu shot, it is always difficult to estimate when the flu outbreak will reach your own community,” Carpenter said. “We follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines and timelines when administering vaccinations.”
This year, Currier says a new group has been added to the list of those recommended to receive vaccinations. It’s children from age five to 18 years, a group that has a high rate of influenza and has a high rate of school absenteeism and parent absenteeism due to the flu.
“The vaccine is safe and works well in this group,” she said. “These children are also efficient carriers of influenza throughout the community so protecting them also protects others in the community.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.