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At First Bethany Bank, a single case of the flu can quickly get serious. With only 35 employees, First Bethany is a small bank. If several people get sick at once from the flu, conducting day-to-day business can pose quite a challenge, which is why it offers free flu shots to its employees.
“We pay for the shots, and we have people who come out to the bank to administer those shots,” she says. “We started doing that every year since 2001, around the time of the anthrax scare. It’s expensive to have employees out with the flu, and to us, it’s worth it for our employees’ and our customers’ health.”
According to a study from Oklahoma scientists, there’s even more reason to get that annual shot. The Journal of Clinical Immunology recently published a paper from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, showing that half of the patients given a seasonal flu vaccine also made antibodies to fight the H1N1 flu.
was a small test group, but the results were clear: Even if a new
strain of virus comes along, the regular vaccine may provide some
protection,” says OMRF researcher Linda Thompson, who led the study with
OUHSC’s Gillian Air. “The real lesson here is that the flu shot, which
is already an important part of staying healthy, may be more helpful
than we knew.”
“the cost of a flu shot is diminutive compared to health care costs and employees’ health care costs.” —Chip Minty
Each year, approximately 15 million to 60 million Americans get the flu, according to U.S. health statistics, with upward of 70 million missed work days. Paid sick leave costs an employer, on average, $135 per day per employee, for a total of $9.45 billion in lost wages from illnesses.
Devon Energy in Oklahoma City offers flu shots to employees as a part of its overall investment in worker health.
“We think it’s good business to invest in the health of our employees, no matter what that is,” says Chip Minty, spokesman for Devon. “For instance, we have a new wellness center that we built next to the new building going up. We offer access to wellness programs, whether it’s the flu shot, weight-loss programs or smoking-cessation programs.”
To be proactive in protecting staff health – instead of being reactive – means less overall sick time, he says.
“If we can offer free flu shots, it’s a good investment,” Minty says. “Promoting good health in the long term is a good business decision. The cost of a flu shot is diminutive compared to health care costs and employees’ health care costs. It’s difficult to quantify the economic savings for the overall wellness programs, but we do benefit from reduced health care costs.”
However, other agencies are scaling back on free flu shots. Oklahoma’s health departments will end the practice of giving free flu shots to all citizens, yet some still will qualify for free vaccinations.
Shots given at the state Department of Health now will be $25 for the seasonal flu shot, a move that is expected to generate about $750,000 for the agency. Like other state agencies, the Department of Health budget was substantially cut this year.
According to Dorothy Cox, vaccine manager, Oklahoma spent $1.5 million in 2010 for 195,000 seasonal flu shots.