Flu shot clinics open early in anticipation of high demand

NEW YORK —In the aftermath of the H1N1 flu pandemic that dominated airwaves during last year’s cough-cold-flu season, retail flu shot clinics appear to be opening their doors to all patients one month early again this year—with many retailers looking to deliver influenza inoculations as early as September.

If the general public heeds the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there may be an increase in demand for the vaccine this year, as the CDC now is suggesting that everyone over the age of 6 months should be given the flu vaccine.

Perhaps as a reflection of those widened flu shot guidelines, there will be a record number of total influenza triumvirate inoculations available this year—more than 170 million doses in all. And this year, the H1N1 flu strain has been included in the seasonal flu shot, which ought to eliminate the confusion generated last year—should a person interested in protection from the flu get the seasonal flu shot, the pandemic flu shot or both?

Last season, by mid-January children had been more likely than adults to get both H1N1 and seasonal vaccinations, while adults were more likely to get seasonal vaccination only. Overall, 53% of children and 47% of adults had received an influenza vaccination of either type, said James Singleton, chief of the assessment branch of the immunization services division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a presentation delivered earlier this spring.

In a consumer survey conducted by CVS/pharmacy this spring, more than half (59%) of respondents said they are likely to get a flu shot in 2010, and more than one-third (37%) of those who did not get a flu shot in 2009 said they are more likely to get one this year.

To help maintain awareness around the role a flu shot plays in preventing the flu, the CDC aims to help continue airing its public service announcements encouraging the public to get their shot this year.

The three largest drug chains already have kicked off flu shot awareness campaigns. CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic launched an informational campaign online and in CVS retail stores and clinics on this year’s “all-in-one” flu shot in anticipation of increased interest in protecting against the flu. Walgreens recently introduced a flu vaccination gift card—a gift of wellness for $29.99—that’s redeemable at any Walgreens or Take Care Clinic. And Rite Aid already has begun taking advance reservations for seasonal flu shots for delivery across more than 3,000 stores in September. The Pennsylvania pharmacy operation has added more than 800 clinics to its flu vaccine calendar and has increased the number of in-house immunizing pharmacists to 7,000.

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