Drug chains spotlight convenience, array of vaccination options
NEW YORK — Walgreens and Rite Aid have commenced their annual flu shot campaigns, providing consumers with a range of vaccine options and making it easy for people to get immunized against influenza.
This season, Walgreens pharmacies and Healthcare Clinics nationwide and Duane Reade pharmacies in New York will offer such flu vaccination choices as a trivalent flu vaccine, a needle-free nasal alternative, a high-dose influenza vaccine for those over age 65 and a quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four strains of influenza, Walgreens said Thursday.
Flu vaccines are offered on a walk-in basis during all pharmacy and clinic hours, while an immunizing health professional is on duty, including evenings, overnights at 24-hour pharmacy locations, weekends and holidays. Age restrictions vary by state at Walgreens pharmacies, and Healthcare Clinics can provide immunizations for patients age 2 and older.
Walgreens noted that more than 90% of people receiving flu shots at its points of care now have their immunization covered under some form of insurance, often with no co-payment or other out-of-pocket cost, as millions of Americans haved gained health insurance coverage over the past two years via the Affordable Care Act. Flu shots are covered for eligible patients under Medicare Part B as well as a vast majority of insurance plans.
“For nearly a decade, Walgreens has been administering flu shots to help protect our patients, customers and those around them throughout the flu season,” Richard Ashworth, president of pharmacy and retail operations at Walgreens, said in a statement. “With unprecedented convenience and broader coverage than ever before from health plans and insurers, it’s not only the most important preventive measure you can take for flu season, it’s also now one of the easiest.”
The Walgreens Flu Index, a weekly report of state- and market-specific flu activity, identified the areas hardest hit by flu in a season-end report. Last flu season, from November 2014 to February 2015, the states with the highest rates of influenza were Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Texas and Tennessee, according to the index, while Oklahoma City; Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, Texas; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; and Fort Smith-Fayetteville, Ark. were the markets with the most flu activity.
“While the timing of flu season is unpredictable, outbreaks can happen as early as October, which is why it is so important to get vaccinated as early as possible,” according to Jocelyn Konrad, executive vice president of pharmacy at Rite Aid. “Rite Aid encourages people to get a flu shot sooner rather than later, as it is the very best way to protect themselves and their loved ones from getting the flu.”
To that end, Rite Aid on Wednesday said seasonal flu shots are now available during pharmacy hours on a walk-in basis at all of its nearly 4,600 drug stores nationwide. Administered by a certified immunizing Rite Aid pharmacist, subject to state regulations, the flu shots are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare Part B.
Rite Aid said it carries the standard trivalent flu vaccine, which offers protection against three strains of the flu (influenza A H3N2 virus, influenza B virus and influenza A H1N1), and a quadrivalent flu vaccine that offers protection against an additional influenza B virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends flu shots for everyone age 6 months and older and that people should get immunized as soon as the flu vaccine is available, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop and provide protection against the flu.
Rite Aid noted that certain groups of people are at greater risk for complications from the flu, including diabetics, pregnant women, adults over age 65, children under age 5, those with asthma and other chronic lung diseases, those with kidney and liver disorders, heart disease patients and those with compromised immune systems.
All Rite Aid pharmacies currently have supplies of trivalent and quadrivalent flu vaccines, the drug chain said, adding that a high-dose flu shot, approved for people 65 and older, will be available in all stores later this week. Upon request, Rite Aid pharmacists can administer an intradermal flu shot, which uses a smaller needle that is injected into the skin instead of the muscle and is approved for people ages 18 to 64.
According to Rite Aid, the CDC estimates the direct costs for flu-related hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults at $10.4 billion. To help employers avoid the impact, Rite Aid will again have a team for planning and implementing on-site workplace flu clinics, staffed by certified immunizing Rite Aid pharmacists. The drug chain is also able to offer employers a voucher program, in which employees can receive a flu shot voucher to use at any Rite Aid pharmacy.
Rite Aid added that its pharmacists are available to administer vaccinations for 12 other diseases, including whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella, meningitis, shingles and pneumonia, subject to state regulations. Consumers can go online to use Rite Aid’s Vaccine Central tool to complete an immunization evaluation, track their personal immunization history and find other educational resources on immunizations.