We all know the old saying that an apple a day will keep the doctor away. But, in this day and age, an apple by itself may not be enough to keep our personnel healthy. As we strive to implement employee health and wellness programs, one important piece that we need to focus on is vaccinations.
I’ll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of getting a shot. Didn’t like it as a kid, don’t care for it now. While I generally kept up on the required shots my physician recommended, I didn't get flu shots, couldn’t remember when I had a tetanus shot and had to look up when I received my Hepatitis B series. Of course, I had to have that series to continue working as an EMS provider. I had also read some of the conspiracy-theory stuff on vaccinations, and some of it seemed to make sense. Since I typically don’t get sick, I just decided not to keep up on my vaccinations.
It was only after attending an infection-control class taught by Katherine West, BSN, MSEd, CIC, an infection-control consultant for Infection Control/Emerging Concepts Inc., that I changed my mind about getting up to date on my shots. Kathy is probably one of the most, if not the most, knowledgeable of people in our profession about infection control, and she presents her infection control programs at Fire-Rescue Med every year. Her message is simple: vaccinations are a means of prevention, and they're much cheaper than having just one exposure.
When I looked at it that way, it was pretty easy to make the connection that we're in the prevention business, so why was I not living the message? She also clued me in on the fact that the conspiracy-theory stuff was all misinformation.
With all that we're exposed to on a daily basis, vaccinations are an easy way to protect ourselves, our employees and our patients. That’s right, I said patients. If we have a sick employee who transmits a disease to a patient, we could be liable for that exposure or transmission and be responsible for testing and treatment.
We also don’t want our employees ending up sick due to an exposure from a patient, as that then equates to the potential for exposing other employees as well as family members to the illness, lost time and an overall decrease in employee health and wellness.
Even if you don’t have a health and wellness program, you can still provide vaccinations to your personnel. In some instances, the employer is required to provide the vaccination at the company’s expense.
The Centers for Disease Control, OSHA and NFPA 1581, Standard on Fire Department Infection Control Program, provide guidance on what should be provided. Generally, these include hepatitis B (HBV); measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TDaP); chickenpox; and the flu vaccines. Unless you have a brand new employee or a confirmed exposure to tuberculosis, TB testing is generally no longer required.
Now, employees can choose to not be vaccinated, and this is acceptable. However, they must sign a declination form that states they have chosen not to receive the vaccination, that they understand the risks associated with not being vaccinated and that they may be responsible for all treatment costs associated with them if they get sick.
As their employer, you're required to maintain these forms as part of their personnel file, and you should be working to better educate your personnel on the benefits of receiving the vaccinations to decrease the number of declinations.
As the cold and flu season approaches, take the proactive step of vaccinating your people. You have to get a flu shot every year because the flu strain typically changes, but most of the other vaccinations are needed only once every five to ten years.
Or you could provide each of your employees with an apple every day to try to ward off any sickness. You’ll quickly find that the vaccinations are cheaper than apples.