US pharmacy chains are preparing a big push for flu vaccinations when the season kicks off in October, hoping to curb tens of thousands of serious cases that could coincide with a second wave of coronavirus infections.
CVS Health Corp, one of the largest US pharmacies, said it is working to ensure it has vaccine doses available for an anticipated surge in customers seeking shots to protect against seasonal influenza.
Rival chain Rite Aid Corp has ordered 40% more vaccine doses to meet the expected demand. Walmart Inc and Walgreens Boots Alliance said they also are expecting more Americans to seek these shots.
Drug-makers are ramping up to meet the demand.
Australian vaccine maker CSL Ltd’s Seqirus said demand from customers has increased by 10%. British-based GlaxoSmithKline said it is ready to increase manufacturing as needed.
Pharmacy shares rose in Tuesday trading, with CVS up 2.5% and Rite Aid and Walgreens up 4.5%.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll of 4 428 adults conducted May 13-19 found that about 60% of US adults plan to get the flu vaccine in the fall. Typically fewer than half of Americans get vaccinated. The
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for everyone over age 6 months.
Getting a flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus for which there are no approved vaccines.
Public health officials have said vaccination against the flu will be critical to help prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with flu and COVID-19 patients.
“We’re in for a double-barreled assault this fall and winter with flu and COVID. Flu is the one you can do something about,” Vanderbilt University Medical Center infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner said.
Drug-makers last year produced nearly 170 million doses of influenza vaccine, according to the CDC. There were up to 740 000 hospitalizations and 62 000 deaths in the 2019-2020 flu season that ended last month, the CDC said.
While health insurance typically covers the flu shot at a doctor’s office and other groups offer free flu vaccine clinics, the adult vaccine retails for about $40.
CDC Director Robert Redfield has said that flu and COVID-19 combined could exact a heavier toll on Americans than the initial coronavirus outbreak that began this winter.
Some experts said creative ways must be developed to ensure that people are vaccinated against flu because patients may be less likely to see their doctors in person out of fear of getting infected with the coronavirus in medical offices.
Pharmacies, public health clinics and other flu shot providers may need to develop drive-up clinics – popular with COVID-19 diagnostic tests – for flu vaccines, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.
“My goal is that every single vaccine dose that gets made gets into somebody’s arm to protect them. I don’t want any vaccines left on the shelves or in doctors’ offices,” Messonnier said in an interview.
One reason for reluctance among Americans to get the flu shot is that it does not always prevent disease, in part because the flu strains selected as targets of the vaccine months ahead of time are not always a perfect match for the dominant flu strains that actually circulate in any given season. But the shots reliably reduce hospitalizations every year, according to experts.
“Even if it protects 35 to 40 percent of the population, it’s a lot better than zero,” University of Minnesota influenza expert Dr. Michael Osterholm said.