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It’s not too early for New Zealand employers to arrange a flu vaccination programme for their staff to reduce absenteeism during winter months.
“Productivity is one of the key factors in raising our economic performance in this country,” said Brian Blackman, CEO of Wellnz Ltd, a leading injury management provider which manages over 85,000 employees through its 45 client companies.
“While the summer month’s weather may be mild, by May winter will be here, and the temperatures will drop. Seasonally, this creates influenza cases, so it is not too soon now for employer clients to take on a flu jab vaccination programme.”
The Ministry of Health officials have warned people they need to be immunised now because it takes up to two weeks to develop immunity after vaccination. Distribution of the vaccination started this week, and doctors have already begun their own information programmes for their patients.
“Influenza can be completely debilitating. Patients become housebound. Their whole lifestyle changes, and going to work is not an option. When a person is absent due to flu, not only is that person effected but his or her co-workers also then wonder if they are going down with the flu, and that effects their productivity. Teamwork is affected straight away too, and morale drops. Employers need robust workplaces where healthy people can contribute to the growth of the business,” Mr Blackman said.
“Absenteeism is an ongoing problem for employers. Once that day’s productivity is lost, it can never be recovered,” he said. “Seasonal flus are just part of the overall absenteeism picture but can be minimised with simple precautions.”
Mr Blackman said that most employers recognised that their staff were their greatest asset, and had healthy living programmes in place for all employees which included diet, exercise, regular health checks and health monitoring, wellness advice, random drug testing and vaccination protection.
The Government is launching its programme for flu jab protection for civil servant employees, including the nation’s 45,000 school teachers, healthcare and social workers.
Each year the target is to reach one million doses of influenza vaccine being used in the community. During 2010, the year of the swine flu pandemic, this was achieved although 2011 was a lower figure.
“Often influenza is identified as ‘just a bad winter cold’ but for some it can be very serious and can lead to complications, even death. We need to be vigilant and take reasonable precautions."
Mr Blackman said influenza was a serious illness which was more than a 'bad cold". He said anyone could catch it, even the fit and healthy and sufferers could end up in hospital or could die as the disease can make other conditions, such as breathing or heart problems, even worse.
Simple precautions like staying at home if they are unwell, covering their mouths if they cough or sneeze, washing hands frequently and good hygiene were useful precautions.
The Ministry of Health had advised that as there was no longer a pandemic, the eligibility criteria for free immunisation had changed. Now everyone over 65 years of age, everyone with underlying conditions and identified as being at risk, and pregnant women can get the vaccination for free, but in the past many employers have been happy to pay for their staff to be immunised because of the reduced absenteeism over the winter months.
The Ministry’s campaign started with the arrival of vaccines in February and will continue through to July.
Over 420 people die each year in New Zealand from the flu, and last year, the swine flu pandemic claimed 18 lives in this country.
Contrary to popular belief, the Ministry stated that a person cannot get influenza from the vaccine. The vaccine stimulates the immune system and contains protection against circulating flu viruses. It is best to be vaccinated early as it can take up to two weeks following the vaccination for the body to build up antibodies.
The WHO reported that last year more than 300 million people had been vaccinated against pandemic flu, and the immunisations, which have an excellent safety record, were 75 percent effective.