We get it. No one likes getting booster shots or vaccines. However, to honor August as National Immunization Awareness Month, let’s all do our part to keep our workplaces and homes safe from infectious diseases. Keep reading to learn more about the life-saving benefits of vaccinations.
Vaccines Protect Our Most Vulnerable Loved Ones
Herd or community immunity slows the transmission of infectious diseases. While vaccines can protect most people, infants and some people with allergies, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions cannot get vaccinated. When the rest of us get vaccines, these vulnerable populations get a degree of protection from our immunity. Because fewer people are susceptible to the disease, at-risk people aren’t exposed as frequently.
The threshold for herd immunity varies, depending on the disease and its contagiousness. Measles, for example, is highly contagious and spreads quickly. For this reason, a community must have roughly 95% MMR vaccination rates to protect its most vulnerable members.
When adults get vaccinated, they’re protecting themselves, their children, and their vulnerable loved ones from harm. This is particularly pressing because California is in the midst of a pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic. While pertussis is a relatively minor condition for adults, it can quickly kill an infant.
In 2010, California experienced a spike in pertussis cases, with 9,000 diagnoses and 10 infant deaths. In 2014, there were 11,2019 pertussis diagnoses, hundreds of hospitalizations, and two infant deaths. To protect our infants, pregnant mothers should get a pertussis booster, which passes some antibodies to their infants. And because children are not fully protected by the DTaP vaccine until they get their fifth dose of the vaccine, anyone (including siblings) who spends time with a newborn should be up-to-date. Unfortunately, not enough adults are doing their part.
Vaccinations Aren’t Just for Kids
In late summer, most of us are scrambling to update our children’s vaccinations as they get ready to go back to school. However, our need for vaccinations doesn’t end when we graduate from high school. Vaccines for hepatitis B, influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, shingles, and HPV can protect adults from dangerous infectious diseases and related cancers. As we age, we run a higher risk of contracting and dying from many of these conditions.
Unfortunately, a lot of adults are under-vaccinated. In 2016-17, only about 43% of adults got the flu vaccine. However, 56,000 people die from influenza annually. Similarly, while pneumococcal pneumonia causes 400,000 hospitalizations each year, only 24% of adults with an increased risk from the disease get the vaccine.
Your need for adult vaccinations will depend on a series of factors, including your:
- Lifestyle and travel destinations
- Medical conditions
- Vaccination history
While it’s always best to discuss vaccinations with your primary care physician, you can also review the adult and child vaccination schedules on the CDC’s website.
Infectious Diseases Can Decrease Workplace Productivity and Increase Your Company’s Healthcare Costs
When your workforce or their loved ones get preventable, infectious diseases, your company pays a price. First, the increased healthcare costs can raise both your overall healthcare costs and your employees’ out-of-pocket expenses. Additionally, when an infected employee is absent or ill, their productivity decreases.
Finally, if your workplace isn’t protected by herd immunity, a single case of measles, shingles, or the flu could result in an outbreak that puts your employees and customers in danger.
Vaccines Are Safe for Most People
There’s a lot of fear and confusion about the safety of vaccines. However, the research overwhelmingly shows that for most people, vaccines are safe and reliable. If you have concerns about you or loved one’s ability to take a specific vaccine, talk to your primary care physician. Together, you can decide whether a vaccine is safe for you and your family. However, you should never decide to forego a vaccine without the approval of your physician.
How Can Employers Encourage Vaccination?
There are some simple ways to encourage your employees to get vaccinated. First, make sure they know that some vaccines are fully covered by their health plan. Under the Affordable Care Act, many vaccinations are an essential health benefit — including those for influenza, measles, shingles, and pertussis. This means your employees should never pay a deductible or co-pay for these life-saving vaccines.
Second, make vaccinations easy. Many people are unaware they don’t need a doctor’s appointment to get many common vaccines. You can offer flu shot and other vaccine clinics onsite. Or you could highlight nearby pharmacies and walk-in clinics that provide on-demand vaccinations.
Finally, offer educational opportunities. Your employees might not understand the importance of booster shots, annual flu vaccines, and adult vaccines for at-risk populations. Consult with a workplace wellness program or use the National Immunization Awareness Month toolkit to build a vaccine awareness program for your workplace.
California Department of Public Health (2018, June 20). Pertussis (Whooping cough). California Department of Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/pertussis.aspx
National Public Health Information Coalition (2018). National Immunization Awareness Month toolkit. NPHIC.
Willingham, E., Helft, L. (2014, September 5). What is herd immunity? NOVA. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/herd-immunity.html