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When you think about vaccines, you probably envision a child cringing at the sight of a needle. But did you know that adults should get their fair share of needling too?

A shot in the arm for American businesses: The importance of employee vaccinations

Vaccines aren’t just for kids. In fact, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, approximately 50,000 U.S. adults die each year from illnesses that could have been prevented by vaccinations. That’s higher than the death rates for breast cancer, HIV/AIDs and traffic accidents.1

American businesses should take note of the high cost of unvaccinated adults: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the annual national economic burden resulting from a single preventable disease – adult influenza – is more than $83.3 billion.2

How can employers lower the costs of vaccine-preventable diseases for workers and the nation at large? First, they should take steps to prevent the spread of illnesses:

  • Sick workers should not be penalized for taking time off to recover. Instead, they should be encouraged to stay home until they are no longer contagious. Spreading the message that employees should use their sick days when they’re under the weather actually reduces absenteeism and increases productivity. Workers who stay on the job while ill share their germs with healthy workers, who in turn share them with others.
  • Establish a corporate plan for operating during a pandemic, which is the outbreak of a disease that affects large numbers of people. In the event of a pandemic, businesses will experience increased absenteeism and lowered productivity. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has prepared guidelines to help employers prepare for a pandemic.3
  • Encourage employees to practice good hygiene by posting hand-washing signs in restrooms and providing hand-sanitation stations.

What else can businesses do to protect themselves and their workers from the high cost of preventable illnesses? A simple first step is to ensure employee health care plans cover key immunizations that protect workers as well as workplace productivity.

The Aflac WorkForces Report, which is conducted annually and gauges employees’ readiness to cope with the high costs of illness or injury, consistently shows workers are short on funds to pay doctor and hospital bills – and that includes costs stemming from communicable diseases that could be prevented by a quick shot in the arm.4 What’s more, according to the Centers for Disease Control, many Americans don’t take medicine as prescribed. They skip doses, delay prescription refills and take lower amounts to save money.5 If workers won’t pay for medicine to control diseases that have already been diagnosed, it stands to reason they won’t ante up for vaccinations to prevent illnesses they might contract in the future.

Employee health benefits affect workers’ willingness to seek preventive services and clinical care – and employers should provide preventive services such as immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, all health insurance marketplace plans and most private insurance plans must cover the vaccines listed below without charging a copayment or coinsurance when they’re provided by an in-network provider, although doses, recommended ages and recipients vary:

Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Herpes Zoster, Human Papillomavirus, Influenza, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Varicella

In today’s world, there’s no reason for preventable diseases to result in disaster. Adult vaccinations can protect against illness, hospitalization and even death. Employers should do the right thing for workers and their families by providing coverage for required and recommended vaccinations as part of their benefits plans. By doing so, they’ll reduce workplace absenteeism and increase productivity.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a solicitation.

Aflac herein means American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus.