Get record participation for flu shots, this year

'It's always been a struggle.'

Despite tireless efforts to promote workplace influenza vaccination programs, the vast majority of occupational health professionals see participation rates that are far less than what they hoped for. One reason, not surprisingly, is a misconception that the vaccine itself can give you the flu.

"We spend a lot of time educating employees that you are not going to get the flu from the vaccine," says Susan L. Zarzycki, RN,COHN,CM, an occupational health manager at Finch Paper in Glen Falls, NY. "It's always been a struggle."

The weekly employee newsletter, staff meetings, and internal televised programs are all getting out that important message, but there was only a 25% overall participation rate in the company last year. This contrasts with a 98% participation rate among the company's executives, however.

One reason for the discrepancy may be that while occupational health nurses worked hard to offer the vaccine during various dates and shifts, employees had to come to them to receive the shot. However, nurses went directly to the offices of executives to give them the vaccine.

This year, a different approach will be tried. Occupational health nurses will give vaccines right in the employee's department, companywide. Last year, 200 employees out of 800 were vaccinated, and this year an extra 100 vaccines was ordered.

"Some people believe that health is their personal business that belongs at home," she adds. "Sadly, you aren't always going to change those people."

To increase participation, occupational health should "stay connected with the employee benefits department," advises Beth Lundholm, MS, LP, manager of health risk management at Minnesota Management and Budget in St. Paul. "Take an active role in promoting the workplace clinics." She says these things were key to the agency's success:

• A partnership was formed between the agency, the flu shot administrator, health insurance carriers, and the state health department.

• Dedicated site coordinators plan and roll out the workplace clinics.

• Posters, e-mails and web pages are used to promote the campaign.

• A FAQ sheet is distributed to employees.

"This answers questions about the flu vaccine, and some myths that are out there about the flu," says Dawn Cvengros, MA, RD, the agency's program strategy and integration manager. "That is one of our biggest challenges."

Give many options

Long waits in line that prevent a speedy return to work will work against you. "If a worker can have release time to go get the shot, they will be more likely to do it," says Dawn Stone, RN, a Fullerton, CA-based nurse practitioner and former occupational health nurse at Miller's Brewing Company, University of California—Los Angeles' Occupational Health Facility, and Northrop. She recommends:

• Offering many opportunities for employees to receive their influenza immunization;

• Advertising the dates, times and locations often, using e-mail messages and eye-catching posters in strategic locations;

• Providing privacy and confidentiality during the process;

• Giving a fun, low-cost incentive such as a sticker, hand sanitizer, or healthy treat;

• Having supervisors and managers make announcements;

• Offering a cost for the immunization that is lower than what local drug stores charge for the same service. "It should also be lower than the worker's co-payment for an office visit with their health care professional," she says.


For more information on influenza vaccination programs, contact:

• Dawn Cvengros, MA, RD, Program Strategy and Integration Manager, Minnesota Management and Budget, St. Paul. Phone: (651) 259-3705. E-mail:

• Beth Lundholm, MS, LP, Manager, Health Risk Management, Minnesota Management and Budget, St. Paul. Phone: (651) 259-3731. E-mail:

• Dawn Stone, RN, Fullerton, CA. Phone: (714) 516-2695. E-mail:

• Susan L. Zarzycki, RN, COHN, CM, Occupational Health Manager, Finch Paper, Glen Falls, NY. Phone: (518) 793-2541, ext. 5389. Fax: (518) 793-1872. E-mail: