H1N1 (“Swine”) flu vaccination trials are underway in the United States, and so far, it appears that there are no major side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s the good news. The bad news for employers is that the vaccinations likely won’t be available for distribution to most adults through employee health benefit plans until the Spring of 2010.
Health department officials are expecting a surge in H1N1 cases this Fall, as students return to school. Children are particularly vulnerable to the virus. As a result, once the vaccine has been approved for distribution, doses will be made available to children first and may be administered through school vaccination programs. This means that the distribution to adults is likely to be delayed.
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In the meantime, employers are being urged to implement programs to make other flu vaccinations available to employees, or allow flexible scheduling so that employees can get vaccinated. Employers are also advised to implement a flu preparedness program. According to the federal government, employers should take the following actions now:
- Review or establish a flexible influenza pandemic plan and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan;
- Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected before flu season;
- Have an understanding of your organization’s normal seasonal absenteeism rates and know how to monitor your personnel for any unusual increases in absenteeism through the fall and winter;
- Engage state and local health department to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information;
- Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs;
- Develop other flexible leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students or child care programs close;
- Share your influenza pandemic plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them;
- Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts; and
- Add a “widget” or “button” to your company Web page or employee Web sites so employees can access the latest information on influenza.