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CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid turn spotlight on H1N1 flu shots

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NEW YORK — The nation’s biggest drug store chains are touting their broad availability of H1N1 vaccine as National Influenza Vaccination Week gets under way.

CVS Caremark Corp., Walgreen Co. and Rite Aid Corp. said Monday they are now offering H1N1 flu shots via their pharmacies and/or retail health clinics throughout their store networks and recommend customers get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families while supplies last.

Running through January 16, the National Influenza Vaccination Week event — an initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — is designed to highlight the importance of getting immunized for the seasonal and H1N1 flu viruses at a time of year when influenza activity surges.

Citing CDC figures, Walgreens reported that the flu season typically peaks after the start of the new year 80% of the time. And starting in 2009, the H1N1 epidemic has raised the public’s concern about the spread of influenza. According to CVS Caremark, there have been about 47 million cases of H1N1 flu, more than 200,000 hospitalizations, and nearly 10,000 deaths, with most of the deaths involving children and non-elderly adults.

"H1N1 still has the potential to cause serious illness and even death during this flu season, which typically peaks this time of year," CVS Caremark chief medical officer Troy Brennan said in a statement. "Now that H1N1 vaccine is widely available, we’re urging customers in our CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic communities to get vaccinated now as the best defense against the flu."

To that end, CVS Caremark has expanded H1N1 vaccine availability to Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.  The company said H1N1 immunizations are now available in 34 states and the District of Columbia at CVS/pharmacy or MinuteClinic locations.

In addition, CVS Caremark said CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic are using TV, radio and online advertising as well as in-store marketing to educate consumers about vaccine availability — especially with most states lifting priority group restrictions on who can get vaccinated — and the importance of getting an H1N1 vaccine.  

"Many patients who may not have had an opportunity to get an H1N1 vaccine previously because of supply issues or because they were not in a primary risk group are now coming in to be vaccinated," Brennan explained. "And the more people who get vaccinated, the less likely it is that the flu will spread in the coming months."

Meanwhile, Rite Aid said its certified immunizing pharmacists are providing H1N1 vaccines at 1,257 stores in 30 states and the District of Columbia. The chain is pointing customers to to find Rite Aid stores offering the H1N1 flu shots, and it said its pharmacists also are available to answer questions about H1N1 and seasonal flu.

Rite Aid also said that in-store signage is urging vaccinations against H1N1, and brochures are available in all stores to educate customers about H1N1 flu and seasonal flu, why vaccination is important and who should be vaccinated.

The drug chain noted that its stores still have supplies of the seasonal flu vaccine and are offering pneumococcal shots for pneumonia to help ward off H1N1 complications.

So far this flu season, Walgreens said it has administered more than a million H1N1 vaccines through its pharmacies and Take Care Clinics nationwide. The drug chain reported that H1N1 immunizations are currently available at all of its 7,100-plus Walgreens pharmacies and more than 350 Take Care Clinics.

And the company noted that the huge turnout for flu shots shows that Americans are heeding the advice of health officials to get an H1N1 vaccination and help prevent a potential third wave of H1N1 flu activity.

"Reaching 1 million H1N1 vaccinations, most of which have come in the last three weeks, shows that Americans truly value greater convenience and access to our health care providers," commented Kermit Crawford, Walgreens’ senior vice president of pharmacy. "As our country looks for ways to control escalating health care costs, this flu season has demonstrated how Walgreens can help consumers lower costs and stay well throughout the year with our affordable, preventive health care services."

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