For the past seven years, I’ve strolled down to conference room B to get my flu shots. Conveniently onsite and free thanks to my employer, there really was no reason not to get it. Now that we are remote, I have not even had time to think about where and when I’m going to get vaccinated–and I know the importance of doing so.
It’s important every year for people to get the influenza vaccine, but this year is especially important as COVID-19 continues to rage across the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized from the flu every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, since COVID is not slowing down, healthcare workers are trying to avoid a crash collision with the two illnesses this fall and winter.
As COVID and the flu have some similar symptoms (fever, cough, etc.) and serious cases may require hospitalization, minimizing the number of flu cases will be extra important this year to avoid further strain to our healthcare system. The novel coronavirus remains new, and doctors and scientists are unsure if cases will increase with the colder weather. And, since some areas of the country are still working to contain COVID to flatten the curve, an influx of flu-related hospitalizations combined with COVID ones could overwhelm healthcare workers and hospital capacity.
That is why it is important employers do their part to encourage employees to receive a flu shot. Studies show that getting vaccinated can reduce flu illness, doctors’ visits, missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. Influenza vaccination is particularly important for older people, pregnant women, people who are immuno-compromised and others with chronic conditions who are at risk for serious cases of, and complications from, the flu, as this is the same group of people more vulnerable for hospitalization due to severe illness from COVID-19 infection.
Here are four actionable ways HR can encourage employees to receive the flu vaccine:
Activate them with multi-channel communications. Things are different this year and how employers promote flu shots needs to be as well. One instance of telling employees to get a flu shot will not do the trick. As with most health and wellbeing campaigns, multi-channel communications will ensure that most consumers are seeing the message and will be prompted to act. Using a combination of email, text and web is a proven way to reach consumers where they are and get a higher percentage of completed actions.
Start early. Getting ahead of the flu season will help protect the healthcare system from being overwhelmed with critically ill flu and coronavirus patients later this year, as well as maximize your impact on health improvement for your people. Now is the time to start a strategic mix of educational mail, email and automated voice calls to connect with employees, to explain vaccine benefits and to motivate vaccination intent, so they are ready to get vaccinated in this month and next.
Provide drive-thru flu shot clinics. For those who are working remotely, consider setting up a drive-thru flu shot clinic. This could be a special instance, replacing a regular flu shot drive at the office. That way, if they can remain in the safety of their own car, people might be more likely to go and get the shot. By doing so, they also can continue to avoid high-traffic areas and potentially waiting in line with others.
Provide rewards and incentives. There’s nothing like “free” money to motivate people to act. We’ve found that gift cards are an especially good way to incentivize people to take action in their health and wellbeing. Recently, we have seen an uptick in customer requests for gift cards to grocery stores or office supply stores, and less for restaurants and travel, a likely result of the pandemic and people wanting to invest in their home office. Employees could also be rewarded with extra vacation time or flexible hours for getting their flu shots.
The CDC urges people to get a flu shot by the end of October for maximum protection but stresses that vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, even into February. So, now is the time to start encouraging employees to get out and get a flu shot, to keep themselves and loved ones safe during this volatile year for healthcare.