The nation's three biggest drug store chains — CVS Caremark Corp., Walgreen Co. and Rite Aid Corp. — this week unveiled extensive flu shot programs for their in-store health clinics and pharmacies.

CVS Caremark, Walgreens, Rite Aid, flu shot, flu vaccine, MinuteClinic, Take Care clinics, immunization, CVS/pharmacies, drug store, pharmacy, in-store health clinics, Greg Wasson, Troy Brennan, Allan Khoury, H1N1, swine flu, Bartell Drugs, Kroger, Safeway, Russell Redman

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CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid to launch major flu shot programs

August 31st, 2009
Flu shots will be offered via the drug chains' in-store clinics and pharmacies.

NEW YORK – The nation's three biggest drug store chains — CVS Caremark Corp., Walgreen Co. and Rite Aid Corp. — this week unveiled extensive flu shot programs for their in-store health clinics and pharmacies.

CVS Caremark and Walgreens also said Monday that they would offer a specified amount of free seasonal flu vaccines to those not covered by health insurance.

Starting September 1, CVS Caremark will offer seasonal flu shots daily on a walk-in basis at more than 500 MinuteClinic locations. The company also said it plans to hold more than 9,000 flu shot clinics at select CVS/pharmacies nationwide beginning September 15.

Walgreens, meanwhile, announced that it will begin offering seasonal flu shots on September 1 at more than 7,000 points of care nationwide, including nearly all of its stores and about 350 in-store Take Care Clinics.

From September 8 through September 30, all Take Care clinics and Walgreens pharmacies will have immunizing pharmacists or nurse practitioners on staff from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, offering shots with or without an appointment for $24.99. The company also said shots are available outside those hours if an immunizing pharmacist or nurse practitioner is on duty and that Take Care clinics will offer FluMist nasal spray as an alternative to the shot for $29.99.

Walgreens noted that a new survey found that 50% of consumers plan to get a seasonal flu shot this year — up from 43% who said they got one last season — and that 27% say they are more concerned about getting the flu than they were a year ago.

"With a heightened awareness around this flu season, we've assembled the resources to be the go-to source for flu prevention, as well as general health and wellness, in every community we serve," Greg Wasson, president and chief executive officer of Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens, said in a statement.

Rite Aid said more than 2,000 certified immunizing pharmacists in more than 1,500 of its stores will give seasonal flu shots now and throughout the flu season. The company recommended that consumers call their local store to check if appointments are necessary.

And from September 23 through mid-December, the Camp Hill, Pa.-based chain said that nurses will give seasonal flu vaccines on a first-come, first-served basis at flu shot clinics in more than 1,800 stores. Clinic locations will be announced September 1.

As consumer concern about this year's flu season mounts, chains also are reaching out to help the uninsured be prepared.

CVS Caremark pointed out that those who are unemployed and seeking employment are among the least likely to get a flu shot. The company's 2009 Health IQ study found that just 34% of these consumers received a flu shot last year versus 49% of respondents overall.

As a result, CVS Caremark said it plans to provide 100,000 free seasonal flu shots, or about $3 million worth, to the unemployed. The program will include on-site flu clinics at One-Stop Career Center locations and the distribution of vouchers for free flu shots at CVS/pharmacies or MinuteClinics. One-Stop Career Centers offer tools and training to job seekers.

"The number of people who did not get a flu shot last year is alarming," commented Troy Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer for CVS Caremark, which is based in Woonsocket, R.I. "CVS Caremark wants to ensure cost and access are not barriers to getting a flu shot this year for one of the most vulnerable populations, the unemployed. Our commitment to offer 100,000 free flu shots is part of our broader efforts to help prevent the spread of seasonal flu, which can lead to more serious and costly health problems."

Walgreens said it will supply $1 million of seasonal flu shots to uninsured adults. The immunizations will be distributed in the form of vouchers, which will go to eligible consumers who visit one of nine Wellness Tour bus locations in select markets across the country. Vouchers are available on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last, the company said.

"We'll continue to explore ways in which Walgreens can assist consumers and government agencies throughout this flu season," Wasson stated.

The three drug chains also are keeping a close watch on the H1N1 "swine flu" virus and the availability of a vaccine.

Walgreens said the vaccine, which will require two separate shots, is slated to become available around mid-October and that the company is working closely with the federal government, which is overseeing the development and rollout of an H1N1 immunization. Rite Aid noted that the swine flu vaccine is expected to be distributed only in limited amounts to high-risk groups well into the flu season.

"Pharmacists and health care professionals at Walgreens and Take Care Health Systems will actively seek out opportunities to educate patients about the differences between H1N1 and seasonal flu so they can take the best steps to protect themselves," stated Allan Khoury, chief medical officer for Walgreens' Take Care Health Systems. "While there’s certainly widespread and growing concern around H1N1, what consumers can do right now is get the seasonal flu vaccine."

Other pharmacy and in-store clinic operators, including supermarket chains, also recently announced flu shot initiatives as the start of the flu season nears.

For example, Seattle-based Bartell Drugs last week launched a seasonal flu vaccination program for all of its stores and an employer program for businesses. This week, Kroger Co. plans to begin providing seasonal flu shots through its nearly 2,000 in-store pharmacies, and earlier this month Safeway Inc. started offering seasonal flu shots at its approximately 1,300 food/drug combination stores.