Seasonal flu typically strikes hardest from October through March. With COVID-19 still very much a concern throughout most of the U.S., many health experts predict the country will face two serious outbreaks at once.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already contributed to 33 million furloughs and layoffs across the U.S. since March 2020. We know from previous years that the seasonal flu accounts for nearly 17 million lost work days. To compound matters, reports from the CDC indicate that the H1N1 strain may resurface.
That means serious implications for businesses and their employees if COVID-19 and the flu coincide this winter. Many organizations are gradually re-opening their physical locations and bringing employees back to work after several months of downtime and lost productivity. A flu outbreak could hinder that progress. Even companies that have embraced remote work culture would experience productivity losses as employees get sick.
Proactive leaders from C-suite, human resources, and employee wellness teams have already begun preparing for these circumstances by setting up opportunities for employees to get immunized ahead of flu season.
THE POWER OF FLU SHOTS IN A COVID-19 WORLD
While there is not currently a COVID-19 vaccine, leveraging the availability of the flu vaccine can be an important tool to help prevent additional serious illness among employees and broader communities.
Vaccination is the single most effective method to prevent flu, and the CDC recommends everyone six months of age and older should get vaccinated. The flu shot also has indirect health benefits that are especially valuable this year. By boosting immunity to the flu with the vaccine, employees can stay healthier.
“Offering flu shots can help employers provide their workforce with the best possible protection ahead of the upcoming flu season within the COVID-19 health crisis,” says Karen Staniforth, senior vice president of clinical and operational pharmacy services at national pharmacy retailer Rite Aid.
Typically, millennials are the least likely age group to get a flu shot, according to American Academy of Family Physicians. HR managers can highlight the concern of a COVID-19 and flu coincidence as a way to help younger employees shift their mindset from indifferent to proactive.
DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO WORKPLACE FLU-SHOT CLINICS
As of August, Rite Aid has booked workplace flu-shot clinics that are scheduled to take place across the country from September through December. Every year, they work with companies of all shapes and sizes, in communities large and small, to help employers protect their workforces from the flu. While that objective won’t change, some things will look a little different this year.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brings an additional layer of complexity to everyone’s preparations for flu season,” Staniforth says. “So we have to be vigilant, flexible, and creative as we work with employers to conduct socially-distanced clinics as safely as possible.” That means moving on-site clinics from small conference rooms to larger and airier auditoriums, or even hosting clinics outdoors in company parking lots and open spaces.
Rite Aid also offers employers the option of flu-shot vouchers, which allow employees to receive their free flu shot at their local pharmacy. For companies with smaller facilities or a remote workforce, the simplicity of distributing vouchers and letting employees get vaccinated at their convenience may be the most attractive solution.
As an essential service, Rite Aid stores have remained open throughout the pandemic. Staniforth says their team is practicing social distancing and established cleaning protocols, making it a seamless shift to bring those safety measures on-site for employers. Rite Aid follows federal and CDC health and safety guidelines, while also complying with the various state and local ordinances across their national footprint.
Whether an employee comes to an on-site clinic or uses a voucher in the pharmacy, some of Rite Aid’s enhanced precautions include:
- All team members and customers wearing masks
- Cleaning all surfaces and washing hands in between each immunization
- All pharmacists wearing gloves
- Infrared no-touch temperature screening for team members and customers
- Screening questionnaire prior to immunizations
- Floor markers indicating six-foot physical distance
Additionally, Plexiglass barriers are set up between staff and customers at Rite Aid pharmacy counters and retail checkout areas. “From the very beginning of the pandemic, our pharmacists and other team members have been committed to staying open,” she says. “Our teams wanted to be at work to serve their communities.”
BEYOND THE WORKPLACE
Preventing flu in the workplace also has a far-reaching impact in local communities. “When we work with local companies, we recognize that their employees are our customers, and our staff are their customers,” Staniforth says. “So, the more we vaccinate, the better we can protect whole communities.”
It’s also vital to relieve some of the pressure on community healthcare systems that may already be strained from the COVID-19 pandemic. Routine vaccinations like flu shots can help prevent illnesses, which reduces related doctor visits and hospitalizations.
START PLANNING NOW
As flu season approaches, protect your employees and your back-to-work progress by scheduling a flu shot clinic. Rite Aid’s team of dedicated clinical coordinators help manage the logistics of an on-site clinic, flu shot vouchers, or a combination of both. Call (855) 882-5951 or visit riteaid.com/shieldmyworkforce.