After last year’s vaccine shortages and the worries over an H1N1 pandemic, community pharmacies and other chain drug retailers are stepping up their efforts to provide flu vaccines this year.

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Retail News Breaks Archives

Chain drug retailers step up flu shot campaigns

September 13th, 2010

NEW YORK – After last year’s vaccine shortages and the worries over an H1N1 pandemic, community pharmacies and other chain drug retailers are stepping up their efforts to provide flu vaccines this year.

Both CVS Caremark Corp. and Rite Aid Corp. have cut the price of a flu vaccination, with CVS trimming the cost from $35 a year ago to $30 this year and Rite Aid trimming the cost to $25 from $30.

Discount chain Target Corp., which is offering vaccinations in 1,600 of its pharmacies and in-store clinics, is charging $24, as is rival Walmart, which along with its Sam's Club subsidiary is providing flu shots in over 4,100 discount stores and warehouse clubs nationwide.

In addition, Rite Aid and a handful of supermarket operators — including Safeway Inc., Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. and Supervalu Inc. — are giving patients who get a vaccine in their pharmacies store discounts and coupons.

Food and drug retailers Winn-Dixie and Ahold USA's Giant Food of Landover, Md., also are offering customers who are members of their loyalty card programs $5 off a flu vaccination. Regional chain Weis Markets and Winn-Dixie, too, are offering on-site flu immunizations to businesses. Weis announced its program with the launch of flu vaccines through its pharmacies and upcoming flu clinic schedule.

Meanwhile, drug store buying group Pharmacy Select and FFF Enterprises' VaxAmerica have unveiled a program to offer flu vaccine clinic services to thousands of independent pharmacies nationwide. Pharmacy Select — the umbrella organization of pharmacy buying groups Pharmacy Provider Services Corp. (PPSC), Pace Alliance and Independent Pharmacy Cooperative (IPC) — is marketing the flu shot program immediately to its 4,000 member pharmacies, and patients will be able to reserve their flu shot on the VaxAmerica online scheduler.

Last year, community pharmacies provided 12% of seasonal and H1N1 flu shots, and industry analysts say that offering these and a host of other clinical services is becoming a lucrative business for retailers. Providing vaccines, screenings and other basic health services has become an $18 billion market, they say, and it is an area that is likely to grow.

Public health officials gave the flu immunization business a shot in the arm earlier this year when they expanded the recommendations on who should get a flu vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all people age six months and older should get a vaccination this year. In addition, only one vaccine will be required for protection against three influenza strains, including the H1N1 virus and the seasonal H3N2 virus.

Manufacturers expect to produce a record 160 million doses, which the CDC expects will be enough for anyone who wants a shot to get one. According to VaccineTrack data through early September from health care analytics firm SDI, more than 690,000 Americans have already received this season's flu vaccine.

Still, some consumers remain wary, and the recent outbreak of salmonella from tainted eggs has caused some to question the safety of this year’s vaccine.

Late last month the Food and Drug Administration tried to allay those fears by stressing that although flu vaccine is being grown in chicken eggs, the eggs used to produce the vaccine come from different farms than those that supply the eggs that people eat.

The best way to prevent catching the flu, health officials say, is to get immunized.

“Flu is unpredictable, and we can’t say for certain what kind of season we’ll have,” says Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC. “Getting vaccinated is your best protection.”

Drug store chains across the country are helping to spread that message, making it more convenient than ever for people to get a vaccination.

Walgreen Co. and CVS, for instance, are offering vaccinations at every one of their stores and walk-in clinics. Rite Aid is offering vaccinations in about 3,000 of its 4,760 stores.

“With this year’s ‘all-in-one’ flu vaccine and the CDC’s recommendation that everyone be vaccinated against influenza, it is more important than ever that customers be provided with convenient access to a flu shot,” CVS Caremark chief medical officer Dr. Troyen Brennan says. “Through our Flu Shots Your Way campaign, consumers can make an appointment for a flu shot or take advantage of a walk-in flu clinic at their local CVS/pharmacy, or visit a MinuteClinic for a flu shot any day of the week with no appointment needed.”

CVS Caremark’s Flu Shots Your Way program lets customers make an appointment to receive a flu shot at the time, date and location of their choice. The appointments can be made online or over the phone.

Other retailers are using promotions and incentives to lure customers into their stores for flu vaccines.

At Rite Aid, anyone who gets a flu shot will receive a coupon booklet that offers more than $100 in savings on a variety of health and wellness, beauty and household items. And customers getting a flu vaccination at Safeway receive 10% off their next grocery purchase.

Each year influenza causes approximately 36,000 deaths in the United States. Data shows that a flu shot can reduce the chance of becoming infected by as much as 70%.

Because it takes about two weeks to achieve full immunization from influenza after being vaccinated, patients are being encouraged to get a flu vaccine as early as possible.

“The best protection against the flu is a flu shot. Even if you received the H1N1 vaccine earlier this year, you should still receive this year’s seasonal flu shot,” says Paulette Thabault, chief nurse practitioner officer at CVS Caremark’s MinuteClinic.

CVS Caremark also has partnered with nonprofit group Direct Relief USA to provide up to $5 million in free flu shots to community clinic and health center patients without health insurance. Vouchers redeemable for a free flu vaccine at any CVS/pharmacy or MinuteClinic are slated be distributed beginning Sept. 20 by CVS and Direct Relief USA to participating clinics and health centers.

Editor's Note: Russell Redman contributed to this story.