Pharmacies taking over flu vaccine market

Traditional providers of the anti-flu vaccine are worried because fewer people have shown up at vaccination clinics than in previous years. But there's a reason — pharmacies.

"We've been very, very busy," said Jim Blackwell, Cub Pharmacy manager. The same is true at Target Pharmacy.

Guide Point Pharmacy continues to see a steady stream of people getting the vaccine. And the Walgreens in Rochester has vaccinated more people than any other store in its corporate district.

Great for business, right? There's just one problem.

"My concern is that we are not seeing the turnout that we are accustomed to seeing in our regular flu shot clinics this year," said Larry Edmonson, director of disease control and prevention for Olmsted County Public Health.


Similarly, Mayo Clinic has expressed concern.

"We have noticed that our public flu clinics are not terribly busy and are concerned that people aren't getting their flu shots," said spokesman Bryan Anderson.

The influx of vaccine clinics into the pharmacy market has helped health providers get large numbers of people vaccinated. But that same wealth of vaccination-certified pharmacy providers appears to have drained people away from public health and traditional health providers.

"Since H1N1 hit pretty hard in each of the two waves last year and a lot of people were immunized against H1N1, I expect that a different influenza virus will dominate this year, and that virus is likely to be H3N2. The H3N2 strain that is currently circulating is in this season’s influenza vaccine, but was not in last year’s seasonal influenza vaccine," Edmonson said.

Both H3N2 and H1N1 are covered by this year's vaccine.

"Every year in the U.S., about one in every 7,700 Americans dies from influenza, and about one in every 1,100 Americans over the age of 65 dies from this infection," said Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Immunization Clinic. The CDC advises everyone age 6 months and older to get vaccinated, Poland said.

"It is also very important that health care providers get the flu vaccine every year both to prevent passing it on and infecting patients and to stay healthy themselves," he said.

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