According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seasonal influenza (flu) viruses exist year-round in the U.S. Flu activity begins to increase, however, in October and peaks between December and February. As flu season approaches, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has released important information on various state responses to keep individuals healthy.
Recent State Response
While the U.S. still navigates through the global COVID-19 pandemic, flu cases will probably rise, as they do annually. Most worrisome is the fact that several groups of people are at high risk for both COVID-19 and the flu. Those groups include:
- Adults older than 65.
- Racial and ethnic minority groups.
- People with chronic conditions.
In order to prevent outbreaks of influenza, states rely on the CDC’s annual international influenza surveillance efforts. These efforts identify and characterize the most common and deadly flu strains currently active across the globe. Vaccine developers, drug manufacturers, health systems, and state governments also use this information to create successful vaccination and distribution efforts. After flu vaccine testing and approval, states are responsible for implementing vaccination strategies and policies.
To reach the largest audience possible, all states permit pharmacists to administer flu vaccines. (The allowable age groups may vary by state.) Recently, Indiana has expanded on who can administer flu vaccines by allowing pharmacist technicians to do so. Also, recently, North Carolina and South Carolina have authorized pharmacists to administer flu shots to younger children.
State legislatures have also started investing in treating the flu to keep people healthy, reduce costs, and avoid hospitalizations. For example, in March 2020, Florida began allowing pharmacists to provide diagnostic and therapeutic flu services. Over-the-counter testing is also becoming more widely available and can mitigate the severity and duration of the flu.
While the state is trying to keep individuals healthy, employers need to provide a hazard-free workplace to their specific employees. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) General Duty Clause, employers have to establish job-related workplace safety policies. Some of these policies could mandate flu vaccinations depending on the employer’s industry or location. Policies mandating vaccinations are more likely to be appropriate for the healthcare industry. Other industries involving individuals who are at a high risk of flu complications could have such a policy as well.
Employers need to remember, however, that some employees are exempt from complying with a mandatory vaccine requirement. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has identified situations when these exemptions would exist. If an employee would like to participate in state-provided vaccination and flu prevention practices, they may. Employers should consult with a legal expert, however, if they are considering making vaccinations and flu prevention policies job requirements.