Drugstores Start Giving Flu Shots Early This Year

Drugstore operators are starting their seasonal flu shot campaigns early, saying they expect greater demand for the vaccine because the swine flu strain has dominated the news.

CVS Caremark and Walgreen are making shots available Tuesday, while Rite Aid says some of its pharmacists already are giving shots. The vaccine is intended to prevent the seasonal flu and is separate from vaccines for swine flu. A swine flu vaccine could be ready by mid-October.

CVS says it's offering the shots three or four weeks earlier than usual. Walgreen says it started giving flu shots Oct. 1 last year.

CVS and Walgreen each run about 6,900 stores around the country. Rite Aid has about 4,800. Walgreen says the shots will be available at almost all of its stores and about 350 of its Take Care retail clinics. CVS says it will give the shots at scheduled events in many of its stores and at all 500 of its walk-in MinuteClinics. Pharmacists at about 1,500 Rite Aid stores will be able to give the vaccination.

CVS also will give away 100,000 free seasonal flu shots to unemployed people. It will give out vouchers for the free shots at its pharmacies and MinuteClinics. The shots will be administered at its One-Stop Career Centers, which are sponsored by the Labor Department. The company says the free shots will cost it about $3 million.

Walgreen is giving out $1 million worth of vaccine to people with no insurance. It will send nine tour buses to select markets nationwide with employees distributing vouchers for the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommends the vaccine for children, the elderly, caregivers, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems or many other chronic health problems.

The CDC says about 226,000 Americans are hospitalized with the flu each year and about 36,000 die.