Chain drug retailers are readying now to deliver millions of flu shots starting as early as next month.


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Drug chains, suppliers gear up for flu season

August 16th, 2010

NEW YORK – Chain drug retailers are readying now to deliver millions of flu shots starting as early as next month.

The flu season is expected to start in the fall, and eight flu vaccines from six companies have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, precluding a repeat of last year’s concerns over potential shortages.

While fears of an H1N1 flu epidemic have waned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has broadened the target population for flu shots to anyone 6 months of age or older. At the same time, only one vaccine will be required for protection against both seasonal and H1N1 influenza, making flu immunizations more convenient.

Preparations at CVS Caremark Corp. began late last month when signs went up at all stores and MinuteClinics reminding consumers that an “all-in-one” shot will be available this year.

Walgreen Co., meanwhile, is taking the novel approach of offering flu shot gift cards for $29.99 each. The cards can be redeemed at any store in the chain or at a Take Care Clinic.

“Gift cards are simply another way that people can help protect those close to them — by giving the gift of a flu shot,” says Walgreens vice president of retail clinical services Jack Cantlin. “While millions of Americans are diligent about getting a flu shot every year, gift cards may also help those who might not otherwise take the initiative to get a flu shot.”

And more than 3,000 Rite Aid Corp. pharmacies have begun accepting advance reservations for shots. More than 7,000 Rite Aid pharmacists are trained to administer vaccinations. The chain also will conduct flu clinics at more than 800 stores in October and November.

Regional chains are also set to meet demand. Kerr Drug has ordered doses for the majority of its stores. It will conduct flu clinics and provide shots at large events such as the North Carolina State Fair. Kerr is also actively marketing on-site flu shot programs to employers.

“We’re in full force — ready to go when it gets here,” comments Kerr clinical pharmacist Gretchen Jenkins.

Lewis Drugs plans to give more than 7,000 shots at clinics on September 21 at various stores, primarily in Sioux Falls, S.D. South Dakota State University pharmacy students and University of South Dakota nursing students will help administer the inoculations. Walk-in immunizations at Lewis will be available subsequently.

Lewis has been conducting this “massive community event” for a couple of decades, notes vice president of professional services Bill Ladwig. “It’s a staple. A lot of people in our area look forward to that date as the day that they get their flu shot. As come Christmas and Thanksgiving, so comes the Lewis flu shot.”

One key component of flu shot offerings anywhere is information. “We’re trying to educate the public that this year’s flu shot will provide protection against seasonal flu and H1N1,” says Cantlin. “Flu season is always unpredictable, so we hope people will continue to be proactive when it comes to getting a flu shot as the best protection against the virus.”

Dr. Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer at CVS Caremark, says the chain will combine “unparalleled access with a comprehensive awareness campaign.”

A survey conducted by CVS/pharmacy found that more than half (59%) of consumers say they are likely to get a flu shot, and more than one-third (37%) of those who did not get a flu shot last year say they are more likely to get one in 2010.

In previous seasons government officials recommended vaccination of high-risk individuals, including children 6 months through 18 years of age, individuals 50 and older, adults at risk for complications from influenza and close contacts of high-risk individuals.

This is the first year that the CDC is recommending a vaccination for adults between 19 and 49. And it is recommending that children between 6 months and 9 years of age getting their first vaccine receive two doses separated by at least four weeks.

Though demand for shots is expected to be high, not all consumers are getting the message. While nearly two-thirds of CVS survey respondents were aware of the recommendation for a “universal” flu vaccination, only half said they are more likely to get a shot based on that recommendation.

“Our survey results demonstrate that while there is a high public awareness about flu, more work needs to be done to educate consumers on the importance of getting a flu shot every year,” states Brennan.

Cantlin says the Walgreens gift cards and flu shots exemplify the retailer’s positioning as a provider of “convenient, accessible and affordable health care solutions in neighborhood communities.”

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