Workplace Flu Vaccinations
The Flu is difficult to avoid. 1-in-6 people will get infected in an average year1. Vaccinated workers are likely to be off work for fewer days – if at all.
How It Works
- How It Works
- How Flu Affects Workplaces
- Over 65
How Flu Affects Workplaces
Impact of Influenza in Australia and on the workplace
The Australian Department of Health’s 2019 Influenza Season summary affirmed what most people already knew: last year we endured very high levels of activity compared to previous seasons and those levels were high from earlier in the year – even during the summer months.
This culminated in a total of 310,011 laboratory-confirmed flu notifications by the beginning of December. On a more serious note, by October 6 more than 800 influenza-associated deaths had been officially recorded, the majority of these were due to influenza A (96%, n=782) and the ages ranged from under 12 months of age to 102 years. Where sub-typing information was available, 128 were associated with influenza A (H3N2), 29 with influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, and 30 with influenza B. The median age of deaths notified was 86 years.
Influenza is easily transmitted through inhaling respiratory aerosols released when coughing or sneezing or by direct contact with respiratory secretions (think of keyboards and phones). Then follows an incubation period of 1 to 3 days after which symptoms start. Initially people think they have a cold and continue to work on, thereby potentially spreading the illness to work colleagues.
In addition to absenteeism due to being unwell, which can be of several days if not weeks duration, it is recognized that influenza may cause weeks of feeling unwell and fatigued with resultant decrease in productivity.
Particularly during winter, a common cause of sickness and time away from work is "the flu" with workers complaining of:
Generalised aching and fatigue
Respiratory symptoms–running nose, sore throat, cough
Many of these workers actually have a cold caused by any number of viruses. They will usually return to full work capacity within 1 to 3 days.
"The flu" caused by the influenza virus produces these symptoms but on a far more intense and prolonged scale – high fevers, intense headache, muscle pain, fatigue of the whole body and symptoms that last for several days or weeks. Most tragically, some people who catch influenza die despite the first world health services available in Australia. It is estimated that consequently, public health services reduce the spread of influenza, particularly to people of vulnerable health by the use of an immunization programme.
The Influenza Virus
There are specific features of the Influenza virus that if understood are very useful in preparing an Influenza management plan for your company.
There are three categories of influenza virus, A, B, and C. The categories are based on different types of proteins or antigens. Influenza A and B have the potential to cause serious disease in humans.
The H and N antigen status of the virus is central in planning an immunization programme. Influenza virus has two types of glycoproteins (otherwise known as antigens) that sit on their outside surface and are an essential tool in enabling the virus to infect people. The H (haemagglutinin) glycoprotein attaches the virus to cells in the human body. Once attached the virus can penetrate the cell and get busy making new virus bodies. The N (neuraminidase) glycoprotein opens up the human cells to release the newly made virus bodies so that they can spread to other sites.
The H and N status is most important in Influenza A. These antigens change very slightly, a process called antigenic drift, over time. The influenza virus of 2020 is highly likely to be different from that of 2018 and that of 2019. This is why a yearly influenza vaccine that targets the antigens of that year is required.
Another feature of influenza is that there is both seasonal and pandemic influenza. Both types have similar symptoms but vary significantly in impact.Seasonal Influenza may be defined as:
- The usual yearly episodes of influenza occurring in or around winter,
- Caused by slight changes in the glycoproteins on the virus such that the immune system does not recognize and destroy the virus before it causes infection.
- May cause significant disease and even death but compared to Pandemic Influenza the number of cases, the intensity of the symptoms and the number of deaths are much less.
- The number of cases can be greatly reduced by the use of the yearly immunization programme. The vaccination prevents disease in up to 70% of recipients.
Infrequent but not rare events with the last being in 2009 and three known episodes (in 1918, 1957 and 1968) occurring in the 20th century.
The result of significant changes in the Influenza A H and N antigens called antigenic shifts such that the virus looks like a new virus.
A risk of serious disease and death even in healthy adults.
Far more significant disease and a much higher death rate.
The need an entirely new vaccination to be developed so that there may be a lag time between the disease starting and being able to provide people with vaccine protection.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How will the free over 65 vaccinations impact our onsite flu program?
Adults aged 65 years and over will be eligible to receive one new free vaccine supplied by the government in this flu season. It works in a different way to the usual Quadrivalent vaccine and their use is restricted to adults 65 years and older: FluAd™ (with an additional ingredient to boost its effectiveness) will only be available through a GP clinic or at a pharmacy, not as an option with any onsite flu programs.
2. Are the new vaccines safe?
Yes FluAd™ is safe. Side effects are mostly mild, very rarely causing serious adverse events. However the risks from the vaccine are less than from getting influenza infection. Most of the side effects are related to their immune stimulating effects and are slightly more common than with standard vaccines, such as a sore arm and, less commonly, a fever. Generally, these side effects are mild and don’t last long.
3. Will you be able to vaccinate our over 65’s at the same time?
Not with FluAd™ as it will only be available for this flu season through the National Immunisation Program at GP clinics or in pharmacies. They could receive the Quadrivalent vaccine as part of an onsite program however (see point 6).
4. Can we vaccinate all of our staff with the advanced immune boost vaccination?
No, FluAd™ is recommended for use only in people aged 65 years and over.
5. We are on a remote work site and don’t have GP’s near us – how will our 65+ workforce get vaccinated?
They can still have a flu vaccine, but it will be the standard Quadrivalent flu vaccine (i.e. not FluAd™), providing there are no other medical issues to preclude this.
6. Can over 65s get the regular vaccine if they choose?
Yes, however they must weigh up the evidence which has shown that the high-dose version better stimulates the immune system of older users to make protective antibodies. The vaccine for over 65s is not perfect – it simply reduces the risk of getting the flu to a slightly greater effect than the standard vaccine. Like other flu vaccines, there is still the chance that the vaccine strains won’t match what’s circulating.