Flu Shots: Stock It And They Will Come?

This is the hot topic. Everyone wants you to get a flu shot because it’s good for your health and a profit making opportunity.

  • The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone over 6 months of age.
  • Pharmacies have big expectations about volume but “unfortunately” (from the perspective of nudging people to act) the disease does not seem to be too prevalent yet.

According to the CDC (and thanks to Larry Marsh’s team at Barclays Capital for sending out in their Flu Clues report):

We highlight that 0.8% of patient visits to physicians were due to flu-like illness, which is down 20bps from last week’s data. We note that this is well below the peak of 8.0% in early 2010. The 0.8% rate is below the national baseline average of 2.5%. Next we note that 6.0% of all reported deaths were due to pneumonia and the flu, 10 bps below last week, and below the epidemic threshold of 6.4% for week 37.

Traditionally, only about 40% of US adults will get a flu shot meaning there’s lots of opportunity for growth in vaccinations.  Tim Martin from the WSJ has talked about this in a few recent articles – Flu Shots Are A tough Sell This Year and People Have Big Plans For Flu Shots.  In the second article, he quotes a recent survey showing almost 2/3rds of adults plan to get the shot this year.  BUT WHY?  (other than the fact that those who respond to survey’s around flu shots may be more likely to take action)

You can also look at the Google flu trends data (again thanks to Larry Marsh and team for pointing this out) which shows online searches down for flu topics:

Like last year, the number of locations for getting a flu shot has expanded exponentially driven predominantly by pharmacies (which BTW is a good thing for them in demonstrating additional value).  You’re even seeing some creative programs building on last year’s programs. One new one I’ve seen is Walgreens use of Foursquare for donating flu shots.

Of course, if we can’t convince healthcare workers to get flu shots then it’s going to be really hard to convince the average consumer.

I would expect MA plans to work with their PDP provider or pharmacy partner to drive members to get flu shots. Since flu shots are a STAR measure, it’s important for plans to reach out and get consumers to get a flu shot.

But why should I get a flu shot if my likelihood of getting the flu is down?  That is the question.

That’s why I’m skeptical about some of the “generic” marketing efforts.  I think everyone knows that they “should” get a flu shot and now finding a location for one is easy.  BUT, we need to make it relevant to them especially those of us in healthcare.  Ideally, their pharmacist and physician are talking to them about it, but if not, how do “we” (as healthcare companies) engage them.

We have to make the “pitch” relevant to them. For families, make them understand the importance of keeping the family healthy and their kids in school. For pregnant moms, help them understand that it’s important and why.  For people who work, stress the importance of not missing work. For people with chronic conditions, focus on their additional risk.  For the elderly, explain the risks to them.

A recent Walgreens study quantified some of the costs of the flu:

A new Walgreens survey examining the effects of influenza on people’s everyday lives and the economy, suggests that last flu season resulted in 100 million lost works days, along with nearly $7 billion in lost wages and 32 million missed school days, among many other findings released today. These findings, the first of a two-part Walgreens Flu Impact Report series, underscore the ramifications the flu and ill-timed illness can have beyond people’s health – from missed work and lost income to parenting challenges.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average 13 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu every year, with active flu seasons seeing closer to 20 percent, or more than 62 million Americans.

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