FDA, Chains Fight for Flu Vaccines

October 3, 2018

After a bad 2017 season, pharmacies and the FDA are pushing the public to still get flu vaccines.

Walgreens, CVS, and other drug chains are stepping up their efforts to encourage customers to get the flu vaccine this season.

Simultaneously, FDA says it is taking several steps to ensure the effectiveness of this season’s influenza vaccine, after it was “less protective” last season, says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in a statement.

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“Last year’s flu vaccine was less protective than it had been in many previous years. In part, this was because the vaccine was not as effective against one of the predominant circulating strains of influenza. That circulating strain of influenza was contained in the vaccine,” Gottlieb says.

In addition, the flu strain used to manufacture last year’s vaccine mutated very subtly during the development process, Gottlieb adds. “The result of these small, but very targeted changes, was that the protective immune ‘antibodies’ that the flu vaccine elicited were slightly different from what people needed to mount the most effective immune response to the virus.”

FDA, CDC, and other agencies worked closely together to ensure that many potential issues with last year’s vaccine were addressed this year, Gottlieb says. “We have some confidence, based on the pattern of influenza circulating now in the Southern hemisphere, that the flu strains chosen for this year’s U.S. seasonal flu vaccine should offer Americans good protection.”

Twenty-two percent of consumers who didn’t get a flu vaccine last year say that knowledge of last year’s flu season-which boasted the highest flu levels observed since 2009-makes them more likely to get vaccinated this year, according to a recent The Harris Poll survey conducted for CVS Health.

In addition, among the 27% of parents of children under 18 whose child did not get the flu vaccine last year, 26% say they are more likely to get their child vaccinated this year due to last year’s high flu levels.

“Many people are looking for ways to stay healthy, especially during cold and flu season,” says Papatya Tankut, vice president of Pharmacy Affairs at CVS Health, in a statement. “This has led to an increase in those who are planning to get a flu shot this year, and we’re hoping this results in fewer flu cases.”

CVS Pharmacy stores and its MinuteClinic locations have had the vaccine available since mid-August. CVS Pharmacy is offering customers a $5 off $25 coupon when they get a flu shot at CVS Pharmacy or MinuteClinic and patients who receive a flu shot at CVS Pharmacy or MinuteClinic locations inside select Target stores will receive a $5 Target coupon.

While declining to comment on the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine, Dorothy Loy, director of immunizations for Walgreens, tells Drug Topics it is “imperative for individuals to take preventative measures throughout the flu season. “Getting the flu vaccine is one of the many efforts we recommend at Walgreens.”

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To that end, Walgreens launched a new marketing campaign across several channels to educate consumers on the importance of getting a flu shot, Loy says.

The campaign includes TV spots that will air throughout the fall, as well as a marketing “takeover” of highly populated areas in New York City-such as Grand Central Station, Penn Station and more than 6,000 city cabs-and in Chicago’s highly-trafficked CTA Blue and Red lines, Loy says.