Flu Season is Upon Us: The Value of a Prick During a Pandemic

Perhaps in previous years you haven’t been too worried about catching the flu, thus being diligent about getting your flu shot hasn’t really seemed necessary. This year is different.

Many people don’t realize that the seasonal flu, also called influenza, kills 3,500 Canadians each year and causes a surge in hospitalizations.¹

Many experts are worried that the coming flu season will overwhelm already strained hospitals causing more people to become seriously ill and die from both the influenza and COVID-19 virus, particularly for those in high risk groups.

For this reason, it is being suggested by health experts that getting the seasonal influenza vaccine may be one of the most important things that individuals can do for their health and the health of their community this year.

Vaccines are the best way to prevent seasonal influenza, according to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).² The number of Canadians getting their flu shot each year has been increasing. In 2018-2019, 42% of Canadians received the shot with more women (47%) than men (37%) being vaccinated.³

People at greatest risk for influenza complications and hospitalizations include²:

  • Pregnant women
  • Those with underlying health conditions including asthma, heart disease, COPD, diabetes, severe obesity and anemia.
  • Children and those aged 65 years and older
  • Those living in long-term care facilities.

It is important to note that another high-risk group are those who are capable of transmitting the flu to high risk individuals. These include²:

  • Health care workers
  • Family members of high-risk groups (those with children or seniors in their homes or social bubbles)
  • Childcare providers
  • Those providing essential community services (banks and grocery stores are places where seniors or immuno-compromised individuals require services).

These high-risk groups, and those in contact with them, encompass a large number of Canadians – a reminder about the role that a preventative vaccine can play in protecting individuals, loved ones, and community members.

The workplace is not different. As more employees head back to workplaces this winter, they can expose coworkers who may themselves be at high risk for complications or come in to contact with friends or family who are at high risk.

Not to mention, contracting influenza itself leads to time off work at with costs to employers and the health care system.

Canadian research on the impact of seasonal influenza and the H1N1 pandemic strain on absenteeism found that the rate of absenteeism due to influenza illness ranged from 12-13%, and on average, each infected employee lost between 14-25 work hours depending on the strain of the virus. Fear that an employee has COVID-19 rather than influenza, could also cause more work hours to be lost as they isolate and take time for testing and awaiting results.

For employers, a relatively inexpensive and small preventative action like supporting annual flu vaccinations could be quite advantageous for keeping employees healthy and enhancing productivity.  

In Canada, the vaccine is free and can be obtained at most pharmacies and doctor’s offices. The best time to get the vaccine is in the fall between September and November so that you are optimally protected during the flu season, which typically runs from December to March.³

Encouraging employees to get their flu shot may present great value to businesses by reducing the impact of influenza on their workforce. To make it more convenient for employees to get the flu shot, companies can run their own flu clinics. For companies where remote working continues to be the norm, educating and encouraging employees to get the shot through educational initiatives, a fun campaign or creative incentives (like a gift card for UberEats, entry into a draw, or a half day off) could be helpful to enhance uptake. 

For employers looking for the latest evidence-based guidance and resources about the flu vaccine, visit immunize.ca  bh

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