Businesses brace for flu

Vaccine shortage could be costly

By Jeff Hansel

This flu season, companies and individuals must do something that might curl the nose hairs of those bosses who expect employees to show up regardless of how sick they get.

To cut the potential cost of flu outbreaks among unvaccinated workers, businesses need to remind workers to stay home when they're sick.


Coughing workers should stay home to avoid the spread of influenza throughout a building, which can cost businesses money.

Jim Arpin, president of the Rochester Human Resources Association, said it's critical that employees know "when to say when" and stay home when they're sick.

Dr. William Marshall, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic, said individuals and businesses will need to be more cautious. There's no way to predict how severe the flu season will be, he said.

A vaccine shortage won't necessarily mean a bad flu season, he said. But unvaccinated individuals can take some simple steps to avoid the flu.

"Employers should support sick employees staying home. By keeping sick staff at home, they can reduce transmission to co-workers," said Kris Ehresmann, a registered nurse and immunization program manager at the Minnesota Department of Health.

"We all know we should stay home when we are sick; however there is an 'I-can-tough-it-out' mentality that we often give in to. This would be the year to fight that kind of thinking and take care of yourself -- and your co-workers," she said.

BOX: BOX: Flu vaccine shortage at a glance

Answers to some basic questions about the flu vaccine shortage:


Q. Why is there a shortage?

A. Only two companies -- Chiron Corp. and Aventis Pasteur -- were making flu shots for the United States this year. Chiron's vaccine was being made in England, where regulators revoked the company's license over concerns about manufacturing standards.

Q. Can't Aventis or some other company just make more?

A. No. Vaccine production takes several months.

Q. Who should get a shot this year?

A. Children 6-23 months old, people 65 and older, people with underlying or chronic medical problems, pregnant women, nursing home residents, health care workers who directly care for people at high risk of flu complications, child care workers who take care of children under age 2, and children who regularly take aspirin.

Q. What if I want the vaccine and I'm not in this group?

A. Officials are asking healthy people not to seek shots this year so enough are available for those who need them most.

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