H1N1 Vaccine Due This Month; Seasonal Flu Serum Shortage Predicted

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has for some time now been encouraging all employees to receive flu shots (plural) this year--both for the seasonal flu and, when the vaccine becomes available for it later this month, the H1N1 variety of the virus. Flu season in the United States is typically from November through April, with peak activity between late December and early March. Adults develop peak antibody protection about two weeks after vaccination. This year, CDC revised its recommendations as to when to receive the seasonal flu shot to "as soon as available," and with legions of citizen taking the agency's advice, some providers are now predicting shortages of the vaccine.

"We've seen a huge increase in the amount of orders for the vaccine," said Alan Kohll, president of Omaha-based Total Wellness, a provider of corporate health and wellness services. "The demand for vaccinations began earlier this year, which is partially responsible for the impending shortage. Also, the media attention to both the seasonal flu and H1N1 has brought the issue to the forefront, and people are paying attention."

Kohll said his company anticipated the increased demand and ordered accordingly and thus now has plenty of the seasonal flu serum to cover clients' needs across the country. He added that not all providers are sitting so well. "I have received countless phone calls from competitors and other providers of flu shots asking us to help fill their orders," he said. "For example, one manufacturer of the vaccine greatly reduced its supply of the vaccine due to quality and bad lots. Another manufacturer is facing a slow distribution channel and pharma companies producing the vaccine received low levels of order cancellations compared to previous year, thus they could not fill all orders. They plan on a certain percentage of cancellations and that has not happened."

According to Total Wellness, seasonal flu and H1N1 flu cases are predicted to affect 30 percent of the U.S. population. The company said that a study on the self-reported health of Americans ages 18 to 64 revealed that the flu is responsible for 200 million days of diminished productivity, 100 million days of bed disability, and 75 million days of work absence. Each episode of illness translates into five to six days of symptoms and between a half-day and five days of work missed, the company said.

Kohll noted that when numbers from the impending H1N1 outbreak are figured into the equation, expenses for businesses resulting from absenteeism and lost productivity are likely to increase significantly this flu season. He noted that CDC recommends for all employers to plan now to allow and encourage sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs, no matter the size of the business or the function or services it provides.

Total Wellness estimates that more than half of U.S. companies host onsite flu shot events for their employees, yet only 25 to 30 percent participate. Given these low rates of participation, the company offers the following recommendations:

  • Provide the flu vaccination program each year for consistency;
  • Offer employers the vaccination for free and encourage them to bring their families;
  • Secure senior level management support;
  • For shift workers, offer several clinics to reach all employees;
  • Provide flu shots in coordination with other events such as screenings and open-enrollment; and
  • Increase participation by online appointment scheduling tools like Employeesignup.com. Keep sign-ups simple.

For more information, visit www.totalwellnesshealth.com and www.cdc.gov.

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