Some Employers With Health Clinics Get Vaccine

By Jeremy Smerd

Nov. 13, 2009

A handful of large employers with work-site health clinics are beginning to get access to vaccine that would protect high-risk employees against swine flu, but the employers’ ability to offer inoculations depends largely on local vaccine supplies.

Public health officials are distributing the H1N1 vaccine to medical clinics, including those based at employer work sites. Employers that do not offer work-site medical care will not be able to get the shots for high-risk employees, health officials say.

In New York, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Time Inc. are among a small group of large employers that have received doses of the vaccine from the city’s health department, a New York City health department spokeswoman said. These employers either operate or contract for work-site health clinics. The clinics had registered with the health department to receive the vaccine.

Citigroup, which has about 23,000 employees in the city, received about 1,200 shots to give to high-risk employees such as pregnant women, women with children under 6 months old, and employees with chronic illnesses.

The shots were not available to employees’ dependents, a company spokeswoman said. Citigroup has “for many years partnered with the New York City Department of Health to act as a distribution site for flu vaccines through the company’s existing health clinics,” the company said in a statement.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said that as its supply of the H1N1 vaccine has grown in recent weeks, the department has given 5 percent of its vaccine supply to health providers serving adults.

Some of those clinics are employer-based. A spokeswoman said that unless the clinic carries the name of its employer, the department has no way of knowing whether they are providing vaccines to a private practice or a work-site clinic. The vaccines are being given on a first-come, first-served basis to facilities that serve adult clients, the spokeswoman said.

In Silver Spring, Maryland, media company Discovery Communications has received enough H1N1 vaccine to inoculate about 300 high-risk employees and their dependents, says Evelyne Steward, vice president of the employer-of-choice group at Discovery. The company was able to receive the vaccines through its work-site primary health clinic, which is managed by Take Care Health Systems, a division of Walgreens.

“We were extremely fortunate,” Steward says.

Take Care Health Systems provides on-site wellness and primary care to medium-size and large employers at about 375 sites around the country. Many of those sites registered to provide the vaccine, the distribution of which was determined by health officials in each locale, says a company spokesman, Gabriel Weissman.

Though federal officials control the distribution of the vaccine, health departments at the city, county and state levels are determining which facilities get the vaccine and how much they receive. Priority is given to hospitals, public health clinics, pediatricians and obstetricians/gynecologists. Medical providers who care for adults, including medical clinics within work sites, are lower priority, health officials say.

Caterpillar, based in Peoria, Illinois, operates a health clinic for employees and has told state and local health officials that it would like to make vaccinations at the clinic available to high-risk members of the public as well as its own high-risk employees. However, the company has not yet received any of the vaccine it asked for, according to a company source who asked not to be named. The source is not authorized to speak to the media.

The distribution has created something of a two-tiered system in which high-risk employees whose companies do not operate health clinics do not have immediate access to the vaccine. Such employees must ask their primary care doctors for the H1N1 shot, health officials say.

Jeremy Smerd writes for Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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