The nation's largest drug chains are working to keep their stores supplied with flu vaccine as customer demand surges amid what's shaping up to be an unexpectedly severe flu season.

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Drug chains work to meet flu shot demand

January 16th, 2013

NEW YORK – The nation's largest drug chains are working to keep their stores supplied with flu vaccine as customer demand surges amid what's shaping up to be an unexpectedly severe flu season.

Walgreens, CVS/pharmacy and Rite Aid said Wednesday they're experiencing flu shot shortages at some drug stores across their market areas but are adjusting distribution to address supply shortfalls as soon as possible.

All three chains provide flu vaccinations daily on a walk-in basis through their pharmacies. Walgreens and CVS also offer flu immunizations at their respective Take Care Clinic and MinuteClinic in-store health clinics.

"Due to high demand caused by the outbreaks of influenza across the country, some of our locations are experiencing sporadic shortages of flu vaccine," CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said. "CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic have been providing flu shots since early fall, and we continue to vaccinate patients every day. The current high demand is unprecedented for this time of year, and we are making every effort to resupply our pharmacies and clinics with vaccine as needed."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Friday that influenza activity remains elevated in most of the United States. Director Tom Frieden said during the CDC regular flu activity briefing that 24 states and New York City are reporting a high level of influenza-like illness activity, while 16 are reporting moderate levels of activity. Forty-seven states are reporting widespread geographic influenza activity, up from 41 the week before.

Rite Aid spokesman Eric Harkreader said the jump in demand for flu shots has led some stores to experience shortages of flu vaccine.

"When possible, we're moving our supply around to meet the demand. And we're also receiving additional quantities of flu shots in shipments this week," he said. "Since this is a very fluid situation, we're advising customers to call their local Rite Aid to see if the flu shot is available so that our team can advise them if it is or let them know when their store's supply will be restocked."

Walgreens, too, is recommending that customers looking to get flu shots call their local store beforehand.

"Flu shots are available daily with no appointment necessary. Due to increased demand, some locations may experience shortages in supply," spokeswoman Vivika Panagiotakakos said. "Customers can call ahead to confirm availability. Walgreens is continually working to distribute vaccine to stores in a timely manner to help serve the needs of customers and patients."

In New York, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens also are responding to an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that suspended for 30 days the state's limitation on pharmacists providing flu shots to children. This past weekend Cuomo declared a public health emergency in the state after the number of reported influenza cases so far this flu season has risen to nearly five times the number of positive tests for flu all last season.

"We are working as quickly as possible to allow CVS pharmacists to vaccinate patients under the age of 17 years as the state of New York's emergency order allows," DeAngelis said. "However, the order did not address other related issues that we are in the process of resolving before our pharmacists can vaccinate minors, including an exemption for the physician protocols under which pharmacists are permitted to vaccinate patients 18 and older without a written prescription."

Rite Aid also is addressing the physician protocol issue to make flu vaccinations more accessible at its New York pharmacy locations.

"As for New York, we are working to implement the governor's executive order and are currently working to update our physician protocol," Harkreader said. "Our pharmacists are trained to administer vaccinations to children 3 and above. Currently, when possible, we can administer the flu shot to children 3 and above with a prescription from the child's physician."

Walgreens announced Monday that its New York pharmacies, including its Duane Reade stores in New York City, have started offering flu shots to children in response to Cuomo's executive order and will do so through Feb. 10.

"We acted quickly to respond to the governor’s order to lower age restrictions, and at this time Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies in New York are now offering flu shots to those age 7 and older," Panagiotakakos said.

"Our immunizations program and training has been developed to serve adults and adolescents in all 50 states and Puerto Rico," she explained. "As age restrictions for pharmacist-administered immunizations vary by state, 7 years is the minimum age for flu shots that we are able to administer in any state under our current program and corporate policy." 

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