With the back-to-school season in full swing, the nation's largest drug chains have gotten their annual flu shot programs under way.


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Drug chains kick off flu shot initiatives

August 26th, 2013

NEW YORK – With the back-to-school season in full swing, the nation's largest drug chains have gotten their annual flu shot programs under way.

Walgreen Co. on Monday announced that seasonal flu vaccinations are now available on a walk-in basis at all Walgreens pharmacies and Healthcare Clinics inside Walgreens and Duane Reade drug stores. Customers who'd rather get immunized by appointment can schedule one online at Walgreens.com or Walgreens.com/clinic.

This flu season, Walgreens said its pharmacies and clinics will offer the standard seasonal flu vaccine as well as FluMist nasal spray; Fluzone HD, a high-dose influenza vaccine for people over age 65; Fluarix, a quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four flu strains; and Flucelvax, a cell-based vaccine slated to become available in late September.

Walgreens noted that the 2012-13 flu season serves as a good example of the need to be prepared. It began in September yet peaked a bit early in late December, with many people getting sick for the winter holidays.

Citing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the drug chain reported that the previous flu season also resulted in more adult hospitalizations than most flu seasons. Those aged 65 and older accounted for more than half of all reported flu-related hospitalizations last season, the highest percentage since the CDC began collecting data on hospitalizations from flu in 2005-06.

The CDC recommends a flu shot for everyone over the age of 6 months as soon as the vaccine becomes available.

"Last season demonstrated why it's important to protect yourself early, as the influenza virus is always unpredictable in when, where and how widely it may spread," Kermit Crawford, president of pharmacy, health and wellness at Walgreens, said in a statement. "During a very active flu season, our pharmacists and Healthcare Clinic nurse practitioners, who are trained to provide immunizations, delivered more than 7 million flu shots to our customers. This season, by offering flu shots when it's most convenient for our customers, we'll again play an integral role in helping more people get, stay and live well."

"Last season demonstrated why it's important to protect yourself early, as the influenza virus is always unpredictable in when, where and how widely it may spread."

— Kermit Crawford, Walgreens

However, it seems that a lot of people aren't motivated by last season's late flu outbreak to take preventive measures this flu season.

This summer, a CVS/pharmacy online survey of nearly 2,100 adults conducted by Harris Interactive found that just 46% are more likely to get a flu shot this year. Still, a majority of respondents (59%) said they consider it a responsibility to a flu vaccination annually to minimize the spread of the influenza virus.

CVS Caremark Corp. commenced its yearly flu shot program earlier this month. The drug chain said all CVS/pharmacy and most MinuteClinic locations are due to have vaccine in stock by the end of August.

More than 7,500 CVS/pharmacy stores and 650 MinuteClinics will offer flu immunizations on a walk-in basis, including the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine. Customers getting a flu shot at a CVS store or MinuteClinic will receive a 20%-off CVS/pharmacy Shopping Pass, which can be used with CVS/pharmacy's ExtraCare card to save 20% on nonpharmacy purchases up to $100.

The CVS survey revealed that convenience is a key factor in consumer decision-making about where to get a flu shot, with 47% of respondents agreeing that it is inconvenient to make an appointment for a flu vaccination.

Nearly two in five of those polled agreed they're more likely to get a flu shot when flu outbreaks are reported in the news, and more than half of those who have ever received a flu shot did so because they think it keeps them healthy and safe. Over 60% agreed that they feel more susceptible to the flu virus when traveling.

The poll also indicated that 80% of respondents who have ever received a flu shot would recommend the high-dose flu vaccine to a friend or family member over 65. The high-dose vaccine contains four times the antigens of the seasonal flu vaccine to provide better protection for this age group, who are at greater risk of developing severe illness from the flu.

Rite Aid has dedicated a team to help employers set up work-site flu clinics or flu shot voucher programs.

"It is important for people to get the flu shot annually because it is the most effective way to prevent the spread of influenza to others and your immunity from the virus declines over time," stated Papatya Tankut, vice president of pharmacy affairs for CVS Caremark. "The results of our consumer survey demonstrate the heightened awareness among Americans to get vaccinated, and CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic are two of the most convenient places to get a flu shot." 

Rite Aid Corp. also announced chainwide availability of flu shots earlier this month. Flu vaccines are being provided without an appointment during pharmacy hours at the more than 4,600 Rite Aid drug stores.

Along with the regular injectable seasonal flu shot, Rite Aid is offering the Fluzone HD high-dose flu shot for seniors, an intradermal flu shot with a smaller needle that's injected into the skin instead of the muscle (for people ages 18 to 64) and, upon request, an intranasal flu shot that can be ordered.

To help employers protect their workers from the flu, Rite Aid also has a team to plan and implement work-site flu clinics, staffed by Rite Aid certified immunizing pharmacists. The team also can devise a voucher program, in which workers would get a flu shot voucher to use at any Rite Aid pharmacy. The drug chain reported that according to the CDC, the flu costs businesses about $10.4 billion each year in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults.

"While it's too early to tell what the 2013-14 flu season will bring, it's not too early to visit your Rite Aid pharmacist for a flu shot," Robert Thompson, executive vice president of pharmacy at Rite Aid, said in a statement. "Getting a flu shot as soon as it is available remains the single best way to protect yourself and others against the flu, because the more people in a community who are immunized, the less chance of a widespread outbreak in that community."

Rite Aid also noted that it's important to get a flu shot soon because it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection, and becauseflu viruses are always changing. The 2013-14 vaccine protects against an influenza A H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that emerged in 2009.

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