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Vancouver Benefits Summit 2024: How plan sponsors can increase employee vaccination rates

Vancouver Benefits Summit 2024: How plan sponsors can increase employee vaccination rates
Vancouver Benefits Summit 2024: How plan sponsors can increase employee vaccination rates

Read: Vaccination policy gaining popularity among small and medium-sized employers

During the campaign, more than 300 of the district’s 1,000 employees rolled up their sleeves to protect themselves from shingles (some staff members didn’t participate because they had already been vaccinated). The campaign also boasted a two-dose completion rate of 97 percent, far higher than the 60 to 70 percent average in the general population.

The campaign included an intranet portal with information about the vaccines that would be offered, vaccination clinics in school gyms during professional development days, and opportunities to book a vaccine at a partner pharmacy. The school district also introduced partial coverage for the vaccine at $300 for two shots: plan members would pay for the first dose out of pocket, while the district would cover the second.

While Canada has done “really well” with childhood vaccinations, most adult Canadians are not up to date on their age- and risk-based vaccinations, due to a lack of vaccination education and fewer Canadians having a family doctor, Johal said. According to a survey by the Public Health Agency of Canada, 88 per cent said they believe they have received all the vaccines they need, but when shown a list of the vaccines they should have received, 87 per cent of those respondents said they had not received all of them.

Read: How to encourage vaccine-hesitant employees to get vaccinated

Canadians are often not up to date on their tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations, with many unaware that they need to be renewed every 10 years. Vaccines that are not funded by the public health system — including shingles, pneumococcal and respiratory syncytial virus vaccinations — have significant immunization gaps, he said, noting that this is an area where plan sponsors can make a big difference.

There is a particularly strong argument for shingles vaccinations to be covered by employer-sponsored benefit plans. The disease, which manifests as a painful, blistering rash and can cause complications such as long-term nerve pain, is a reactivation of a latent chicken-pox infection in adulthood. Stress and age often trigger reactivation, and incidence rates are much higher in Canadians aged 50 and over, many of whom are still in the labour market.

According to Johal, today’s working population is more susceptible to age-related vaccine-preventable diseases. Coverage for unfunded vaccines can therefore be beneficial, as it helps policyholders stay healthy and employed.

Read: Manulife rewards members of health and wellness programs who get vaccinated against the coronavirus through points

Plan sponsors can also provide educational materials about recommended adult vaccines and host webinars on vaccine-preventable diseases. A 1965 study that tried to increase tetanus vaccine uptake found that simply asking respondents if they had had their shot and telling them where to go to get vaccinated increased vaccination rates by 60 to 70 percent—and was much more effective than warning them about how unpleasant the disease was.

“A clear path leads to behavior change,” Johal said. “The traditional path to a vaccine is not easy, there are a lot of barriers. . . . And when it comes to our human nature in preventive medicine, there’s something called future discounting: Every time I hit a barrier to getting vaccinated, I say, ‘That’s a lot of trouble, I have more pressing things to do. This is a future me problem.’ The dropout rate really does add up.”

Learn more about the 2024 Vancouver Benefits Summit.