It’s amazing how quickly the news picks up a topic and how, rather quickly, everyone forgets about it and it’s on to the next… Remember the increase in measles outbreaks cropping up around the country earlier this year and in 2018? They didn’t magically go away, and now new cases have stirred up recent media coverage. I urge employers to think about how this could affect your employee population if you’re unlucky enough to have measles – declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, by the way – pay a visit to your area.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that so far in 2019, there have been 1,172 individual cases of measles across 30 states – and surprise, most of these folks were not vaccinated. The CDC says current outbreaks in New York City, Rockland County, NY, Washington State, LA County and El Paso are linked to travelers who’ve brought unwanted luggage home from their visit to countries with large outbreaks (yes, measles is still common in many reaches of the globe).
So, if an outbreak occurs in your community, how will your business handle the potentially large number of employee absences, and drop in productivity? Your best bet is to not be caught off guard. Be proactive – solid employee communication can be the key to avoiding a nightmare.
My quick advice is to consider the following:
- Encourage employees to become immunized.
- Many employer-sponsored health plans cover preventive medicine – including vaccinations. Does yours?
- Define for employees any associated costs to obtain the vaccine.
- Encourage employees to submit documentation showing they’ve already had the vaccine administered.
- For employees who aren’t sure about their immunization status, encourage them to get the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) titer blood test which checks your immune system for antibodies, indicating your immunity. Check into how your plan covers costs associated with the test and let your employees know.
- Consider sponsoring a health fair at your location(s) offering immunizations at no cost to employees.
Although there is more than sufficient scientific evidence that the measles vaccine is safe and effective, there is some opposition to the requirement of the vaccine for school-age children and proposed state legislation requiring mandatory vaccinations in the name of public safety. I say tread lightly and make it clear that immunization is optional, and you are offering employees support.
No doubt this will be an ongoing conversation that may result in future legislation on a nationwide scale. In the meantime, talk to your benefits consultant about enacting a plan to engage and support your workforce now.