Flu Shot Shortage Causes Education to Replace Vaccination

October 15, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - With the nation's flu vaccine supply cut in half last week after British regulators suspended the license of the Chiron Corp., companies are finding themselves having to switch from worker vaccination to education, according to the Associated Press.

Employers are expecting more sick days to be taken this year due to the lack of vaccine, but generally do not believe it will have a debilitating effect on productivity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 7% to 20% of workers get the flu each season. Also, inclusion in company programs to inoculate employees against the disease are generally underutilized, according to consulting firm Towers Perrin, the AP reports. The firm says that only 5% to 15% of employees take advantage of work-based vaccination programs. The CDC reports that only 25.1% of the general population receives the vaccine each year.

Towers Perrin believes that the shortage will have the largest effect on manufacturing companies, because of the implied trade off between attendance and productivity. Ronald Mason, a principal at the consulting firm, estimates that each flu case costs a manufacturer between $300 and $600, either from the hiring of replacement workers or the loss of productivity.

Flu programs at work in the past have been popular, the AP reports. A 2001 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the shots save an average of $13.66 per person vaccinated, prevent 12.3 work day absences and 2.5 doctor visits per 100 people who get the shot.

Because of the lack of flu shots this season – Chiron was expected to provide 46 to 48 million doses, which now amounts to a massive national shortfall – workers are increasingly finding education programs instead of vaccinations. Companies are informing workers to keep a high level of sanitation at the office and at home, as well as to stay away from the office if they have the flu. Some, employers however, are worried that the former message will unduly increase absenteeism, the AP reports.

Some companies are going ahead with vaccinations anyway. The Chrysler Group, which employs 76,000 Americans, is expecting to go ahead with the shots. “DaimlerChrysler makes 1% of America’s GDP,” spokesman David Elshoff told the AP. “We think we have to keep America working.”