Walgreen Co. is kicking off its influenza vaccination campaign, which it calls the most comprehensive flu shot program in the country.

Walgreens, flu shot, influenza vaccination, flu immunizations, flu vaccine, flu vaccination, Take Care Clinics, drug store, pharmacy, Duane Reade, Greg Wasson, H1N1, CDC, Sandra Festa Ryan, Take Care Health Systems, Russell Redman

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Walgreens ramps up flu shot program

August 17th, 2010

DEERFIELD, Ill. – Walgreen Co. is kicking off its influenza vaccination campaign, which it calls the most comprehensive flu shot program in the country.

The drug store chain said Tuesday that this year it's providing "unprecedented access" to flu shots, offering immunizations every day on a walk-in basis at all Walgreens stores and Take Care Clinics, during nearly all pharmacy and clinic hours.

Most New York City-area Duane Reade pharmacies are also now offering flu immunizations daily, and all Duane Reade stores slated to be offering them during all pharmacy hours by September, according to Walgreens, which acquired the drug chain in April.

Overall, Walgreens has more than 7,500 drug stores and 350 clinics nationwide, with 25,000 immunizers this year — up from around 16,000 nearly a year ago, when the pharmacy chain reported a record pace for administering flu vaccinations.

At all points of care, the flu shots will cost $29.99, the company said. Most Walgreens locations will also offer the FluMist intranasal spray, which costs $34.99, and Fluzone HD, a high-dose influenza vaccine, may also be available to qualified individuals.

Walgreens noted that this year it's offering a new direct medical billing option through several health insurers, including national providers UnitedHealthcare and Cigna, that enables patients covered under those carriers have a flu shot seamlessly billed to their insurance.Regionally, Walgreens offers direct medical billing through SummaCare in Ohio, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Also new this year to Walgreens' flu vaccine program are privacy screens for patients getting immunizations, evening and weekend hours, and online tools such as electronic flu shot forms that can be filled out by patients ahead of their visit.

For the upcoming flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone age 6 months and older get vaccinated. Only one flu shot is needed this season because the 2010-11 flu vaccine will protect against H1N1 as well as two other seasonal flu viruses (influenza B and H3N2 viruses), according to Walgreens.

"We encourage everyone to follow the CDC's recommendations, and with flu shots available during nearly all pharmacy and clinic hours at Walgreens, it has never been easier, never more convenient and never more accessible," Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson said in a statement. "Our expansive network of 25,000 immunizers and other health care professionals are there when you need us. By providing quality, affordable, preventive health care services like flu shots in communities across America, we’ll again play an important role in helping people stay well throughout the flu season.”

To encourage more people to get vaccinated, earlier this month Walgreens introduced a flu shot gift card. The cards cost $29.99 and are good for one flu shot at any Walgreens pharmacy or Take Care clinic.

"The CDC expects the 2009 H1N1 virus to cause illness again this upcoming season along with other seasonal flu viruses, and a shot now protects you all season long," stated Sandra Festa Ryan, chief nurse practitioner officer for Take Care Health Systems, a Walgreens subsidiary. "An annual flu shot is simply the best way to protect you and your loved ones from the seasonal and H1N1 flu viruses and their complications."

Last year, amid public fears about the spread of the H1N1 "swine flu" virus, drug store chains rolled out aggressive flu shot programs, and they are expected to turn it up a notch this year in the wake of disappointing over-the-counter and pharmacy sales stemming from a moderate cold and flu season.

A Wall Street Journal article on Tuesday highlighted the bigger push that drug chains are making this year with flu shots, citing stepped-up programs by Walgreens as well as its rivals CVS Caremark Corp. and Rite Aid Corp. The Journal report also noted that pharmacy chains are going into action even earlier this year with their flu immunization plans as they hope visits for vaccinations will get customers to make back-to-school and front-end purchases while they're in the store.