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Flu vaccination: The business case

Friday, 01 Apr 2016
Flu vaccination: The business case

It happens every flu season: Workplace sickie rates rise as the temperature falls. Suddenly, your temp agency consultant is your new bestie.

There's little doubt that arming your workforce against flu makes sound business sense – especially when you crunch the numbers.

Firstly, the cost is modest – $40 for a dose of the 3-strain vaccine or $50 for the new 4-strain version when administered in a medical clinic (includes Dr consult fees exl GST).

And, the investment quickly pays off because:

  1. Flu is difficult to avoid. As many as 1-in-6 people will get infected in an average year1.
  2. Vaccinated workers are likely to be off work for fewer days – if at all. (It's true that a person who's been vaccinated can still get infected. But, chances are the strain they pick up will be covered by the vaccine, so they won't get as sick as they might have if they weren’t vaccinated.)

Workplace flu double whammy

Flu hits a workplace in two ways, which makes it doubly hard to keep it at bay.

Firstly, there's the all-too-familiar 'absenteeism', which results in days lost while either a worker recovers or they are off work caring for a partner, child, or aged relative. A NSW Chamber of Business-sponsored survey2 in 2012 calculated the cost of losing an employee to flu at around $1300 – excluding temp replacement costs.

Then there's 'presenteeism' – showing up for work sick when you should be in bed – which is actually several times more costly to a business or organisation than 'absenteeism'.

That's because everyone loses: The infected worker shows up and gallantly 'soldiers on' only to pass on the virus to fellow workers. Meanwhile, their own productivity plummets.


High Cost for Business

In 2014, the average annual cost of influenza to Australia was estimated to be $828-$884 million per year. Around 30% was due to indirect costs (working days lost), while 70% were direct costs, with 82% (around $500 million) due to hospitalisations.

Healthy workers aged 18 – 64 years have fewer complications from flu, although the worst of the flu's symptoms last 3 days on average and may take weeks to finally shake off.

However, there are an estimated 1.2 million seemingly healthy adults in the national workforce with serious underlying medical conditions – heart, lung, or kidney diseases, diabetes, or immune disorders. This puts them in a higher-risk category for a more severe flu and a longer recovery time away from work.

Given the ageing of the Australian workforce it's not hard to make a compelling business case for flu vaccination in every workplace.


REFERENCES

  1. Influenza Specialist Group. About Influenza - http://www.isg.org.au/index.php/about-influenza/
  2. NSW Business Chamber (2012) Flu season could cost NSW businesses $482 million. Accessed 5.4.15 Available at: http://www.nswbusinesschamber.com.au/News-Media/Latest-News/Media-Releases-2012/Flu-season-could-cost-NSW-businesses-$482-million

Dr Eddy Bajrovic

Dr Eddy Bajrovic is a Sonic HealthPlus Doctor and Medical Director of Travelvax Australia.

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