Pharmacy chains poised for universal flu vaccination push

Aug 18, 2010 (CIDRAP News) - With seasonal flu shots already available in many pharmacies and their in-store clinics, retail chains are retooling their marketing plans to include the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) new recommendation for universal flu vaccination.

Both CVS and Walgreens recently announced they have expanded the number of sites offering the seasonal flu vaccine. Troyen Brennan, MD, chief medical officer of CVS Caremark, said in a statement announcing the launch of the company's seasonal flu campaign that every CVS pharmacy and MinuteClinic location will be able to administer flu vaccinations this season.

Yesterday, Walgreens announced that flu shots will be available at all of its pharmacies and Take Care Clinics. In early August, Rite Aid began accepting reservations for the seasonal flu vaccine at 3,000 of its pharmacies, adding that it would be offering immunizations at 800 more sites in October and November.

The three chains and their affiliates have about 20,300 locations across the United States.

In February the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended seasonal flu immunizations for everyone except babies younger than 6 months old. It said expanding the recommendation addresses two problems: Flu complications can occur even in healthy people, and many adults with conditions such as diabetes and asthma don't consider themselves at increased risk.

The president and chief operating officer of Walgreens, Greg Wasson, said in a press release yesterday that the company, which administered 7 million seasonal and pandemic flu shots last season, is urging everyone to follow the CDC's recommendations... "It's [the vaccine] never been more convenient and never more accessible," he said.

In its new informational materials, CVS is promoting the seasonal flu vaccine, which contains the pandemic H1N1 strain, as an "all in one" flu shot. The company said it is also providing customers with information about the CDC's new universal vaccination recommendations and tips for staying healthy during flu season.

Based on the new recommendation and the results of a customer survey, CVS expects demand for flu shots to be high. A survey of 3,113 customers conducted between Apr 1 and Apr 5 found that 59% said they are likely to get a flu shot in 2010. More than a third (37%) of those who did not get vaccinated in 2009 responded that they were more likely to be immunized against the flu this season.

However, CVS found some gaps in flu-shot messages. Though two-thirds of respondents said they were aware of the new universal vaccination recommendation, only half said they were more likely to be vaccinated because of it. "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," Brennan said.

Walgreens said it is offering new direct-billing processes though major insurance carriers such as UnitedHealthcare and CIGNA, along with a handful of regional insurance providers. This year the company is offering online flu vaccine forms so that customers can complete them before going to their pharmacy.

See also:

Jul 26 CVS press release

Aug 17 Walgreens press release

Jul 27 Rite Aid press release

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