More than 300 Richmond School District employees rolled up their sleeves in recent months to get the Shingrix vaccine to protect themselves from shingles, as part of a case study conducted by a Vancouver-based not-for-profit.
The Immunize.io case study looked at whether workplaces could help adults stay up-to-date with their vaccinations, in particular second doses, and reduce barriers to access, according to the organization's clinical director and pharmacist Ajit Johal.
“A lot of workplaces are looking at strategies to improve health and wellness, and I think vaccines are great for the prevention (of illnesses),” said Johal. “In terms of investing in your employees and your staff, can immunizations serve as a good strategy?”
The two-dose Shingrix vaccine is used to prevent shingles and is recommended for adults aged 50 and older, said Johal, a demographic that includes many Richmond School District staff – which is why that particular vaccine was chosen for the study.
Johal pointed out that aging workforces are on the rise in Canada, and while older employees may be more experienced or have less turnover, they are also more susceptible to age-related vaccine preventable diseases.
“Looking at the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases as we age is something that we typically don’t pay as much attention to as we do, for example, with childhood immunization programs.”
Of the nearly 1,000 full-time school district staff who were eligible for the vaccine, 320 received first and second doses, said Johal. Some staff did not participate as they already had the vaccine.
Studies have found there’s a completion rate of about 65 to 70 per cent for second doses of the vaccine across Canada, said Johal. In comparison, the case study with Richmond School District saw a 97 per cent completion rate on second doses.
Workplace vaccine programs could also help combat occupational health risks and reduce sick days. But they could also, importantly, help reduce barriers to access by offering reimbursement programs and on-site vaccination clinics, said Johal.
“By offering on-site (clinics), it would increase uptake because it would be easier for people to get a vaccine if they don’t have to travel somewhere.”
For the school district, vaccine clinics were held, for example, in school gyms during the work week or on professional development days. First doses were administered in October 2020 along with the influenza shot, and second doses were given between December 2020 and February of this year.
Those unable to attend the on-site clinics were able to go to partner locations, such as local pharmacies. Immunize.io also hosted education sessions to answer questions about the vaccine.
While staff had to pay out-of-pocket for the first dose, Richmond School District reimbursed them for the second dose.
“I think that also helped people complete the (vaccine) series,” Johal said.
Immunize.io also sent out follow-up email reminders for the second dose, which included the option to book an appointment for the on-site clinics and education on the importance of completing the dose.
The “mixed model” strategy – mass clinics and community sites, such as doctors’ offices, pharmacies or workplaces – used in the case study could also help with the rollout of B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine program, said Johal.
“That just adds another way to get more people vaccinated faster, and the more people that get vaccinated and the faster we do it, the faster we can get herd immunity and we can push this virus to the fringe.”
Currently, B.C. is planning to host large-scale immunization clinics in school gyms, arenas, and convention and community halls. Vaccination clinics for seniors will be held close to where they live.
Johal said he also hopes the focus on the COVID-19 vaccine will raise awareness about the importance of immunization.
“For a lot of people, the COVID-19 vaccine will be their first vaccine in a long time, and hopefully they’ll realize the process and the benefits of it are so great that ultimately they’ll turn their attention to updating themselves on other vaccines as well.”
Immunize.io is a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization, with the goal of “taking our best shot at immunizing the world,” said Johal. It provides vaccine education and access to vaccination services to help increase community immunization rates. For each vaccination, Immunize.io donates one to similar initiatives in developing nations.