Travel vaccines: A lucrative niche market for pharmacies


U.S. citizens visited foreign destinations 62 million times last year. Many needed travel vaccines. That's a big niche.

Retail pharmacies that already provide vaccinations can significantly boost profitability by offering travel vaccines, says Scott Summers, director of marketing for regional chains, Cardinal Health.

Scott SummersSummers estimates that fewer than 5% of pharmacies - and fewer than 1% of independent pharmacies - presently offer travel vaccines.

“With what pharmacists face today in terms of third-party reimbursements, anything they can do to diversify is beneficial for them,” Summers said.

There is a need for this service, since “there is really no outlet where those traveling to more exotic locations can get their travel vaccines,” according to Summers. With U.S. citizens visiting foreign countries nearly 62 million times last year, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, any pharmacy that provides travel vaccinations has a wide-open opportunity.

Related: Travel clinic builds pharmacy reach


Margin opportunity

Cardinal Health has estimated that travelers pay between $400 and $600 on average for vaccines, travel consultations, and over-the-counter medications, sunscreen, and other supplies at drugstore chains that offer the service. And anecdotal information suggests that some people pay as much as $1,200 for travel vaccines and consultations, Summers said.

“The total margin opportunity is around 30%,” Summers said. “What’s most important is that it is a cash business. Most insurance companies won’t pay for travel vaccines or preventive care. Therefore, it’s the one thing pharmacies can do to diversify themselves away from third-party payers and make a lot of money on.”


Because travel vaccination is a very targeted market, retail pharmacies must be willing to market themselves in “different ways than they do today,” Summers said. “It’s about reaching out to churches to find groups that may do mission work, as well as to travel agencies and to international business travelers through corporations,” Summers said.

In-store signage, radio messages, and newspaper ads are other ways that pharmacists can market their travel-vaccination services. And when a global event such as the World Cup or the Olympics occurs, pharmacies should let every patient who comes through the door know that they provide travel vaccines, Summers said.

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