Increasing Flu Shots – Several Views

Let’s start with a few facts:

  • Health officials are recommending that everyone get a flu shot except those under 6 months and those with egg allergies.
  • Last year’s H1N1 killed 13,000 and made 60M sick in the US.
  • This year’s vaccine protects against the 2009 swine flu (H1N1) and two other flu strains that are out there this year.
  • 60% of Americans are viewed as susceptible to H1N1 (still).
  • There are 165M doses slated for use in the US.
  • At least 10% of the US is estimated to have trypanophobia (fear of needles).

Retailers (and likely others) are trying different things to drive flu shot volume:

This year, the competition for administering flu shots will be aggressive among retailers:

Walgreen says it administered 7.5 million H1N1 and seasonal flu shots last season, up from 1.2 million the year before. Walgreen’s figures represent about half of all the retailer-administered flu shots, says Mr. Miller, the analyst. He estimates retail pharmacies could administer 20 million to 30 million flu shots this season. Rite Aid, which doled out 250,000 shots last year, said it has ordered a million doses for this year.

Grocery chains with pharmacies also are pushing flu shots harder. Supervalu Inc., operator of the Jewel, Shaw’s and Albertson’s, says it expects to deliver 50% more flu shots this year in its 800 pharmacies. Kroger Co., the second largest food retailer by sales, says it will have flu vaccines available in all of its 1,900 pharmacies. (From WSJ)

The logical question would be why would the pharmacies care. Money. Flu shots are a profitable business and as long as you can administer them without disruption to your workforce…then your variable costs are limited. But, that also makes me wonder why everyone is taking a general marketing approach. There is lots of marketing, but very little targeted marketing that I’ve seen around flu shots (from the retail community).

On the flipside, managed care companies have a totally different reason to drive flu shots – it’s a HEDIS measure. [And, BTW…HEDIS is a big part of the STAR Ratings that CMS is using to pay incentives to Medicare plans.] They want to limit sickness, hospitalizations, and other medical costs.

This is one where everyone is aligned so that employers also want to drive flu shots to avoid absenteeism from sick employees. This article puts the value of a flu shot to the employer at $46.50. Since flu shots cost less than $30, why wouldn’t employers just give everyone a free flu shot. They’re getting a 50% return on their investment.

A more interesting debate is whether to mandate flu shots in certain cases. The biggest one which is debated is healthcare workers (although I would also lump in teachers and day care staff). The last thing you want is someone who is already at risk and sick to be exposed to the flu when they go to receive care.

Last January, a CDC survey found that just 37% of health care workers received swine flu vaccine and 35% received both seasonal and swine flu shots. On average, flu vaccination rates hover under 50%. (USA Today article)

So, I guess my net-net here is that flu shots are going to be pushed this year. I would think pharmacies and employers and pharmacies and MCOs would pair up to drive shots to specific locations. I think the general marketing and news will increase awareness, but the question is how to you reach the at risk population and drive them to your location and get them to get the shot early before they get exposed. I don’t think a build it and they will come strategy will “win” here.

[BTW – Every Google search I did around flu shots, brought back a Walgreens link at the top of the page.]

And, if you’re interested in what we’re doing or could do around flu shots at Silverlink Communications, let me know.  (Here’s an old article on results.)

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