Flu Shots at the Pharmacy: What You Need to Know

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Don’t want to wait for an appointment at your doctor’s office to get a flu shot? Retail clinics offer speedy service, but may not be allowed to vaccinate everyone.

With more ways than ever to get immunized against flu this season — two new shots now give us six different influenza vaccines — more people will be looking beyond their doctor’s office or hospital to protect themselves against the flu. Since last year, government health officials recommend that everyone six months or older be immunized against the flu. And with drugstores and supermarkets now offering walk-in flu shots, it’s easy to add vaccines to your list of errands. “We know that our pharmacy guests are in-store about once a month,” says Dr. Kevin Ronneberg, Target’s associate medical director. “The more needs that can be met from getting fresh produce to buying diapers and baby food, the more convenient it is for them.”

But different state laws regulate whether retailers can vaccinate children, so it’s worth checking on those restrictions before bringing the kids to get immunized. For instance, at retail clinics, which are generally staffed by nurse practitioners, infants as young as 18 months can get vaccinated, but if the drug store or supermarket only has a pharmacy, many states won’t allow pharmacists to immunize children without a prescription until they reach age 18 (although some states permit pharmacists to administer flu shots to children who are at least seven years old).

(MORE: Why Pregnant Women Should Get Flu Shots)

To provide more opportunities for people to get vaccinated, states have changed their laws and pushed for legislation that lowers the age at which children can receive vaccinations at retail centers, for not just influenza but for other childhood diseases as well. For instance, as of July, a new state law allows pharmacists in Indiana to administer vaccines to kids over age 11 without a prescription. Pennsylvania legislators are currently considering a change that would allow pharmacists to administer vaccines to children seven and older, instead of 18 and older.

If more people can get vaccinated at their convenience, public health officials hope that immunization rates, which generally hover around 30% to 40% each year, will increase. And they have reason to be optimistic. In 2008, for example, Target started a vaccine pilot program by offering flu shots in just 16 stores nationwide. After seeing significant success, the company expanded it to nearly half its pharmacy chains in 2009, and implemented the program in all 1,650 pharmacy stores by 2010. Once the program was chain-wide, Target saw a 50% increase in distributed flu shots between 2011 to 2012. At the peak of the flu season last January, the company showed a 20-fold increase in the number of distributed vaccines compared to the same period in the season previous year.

(MORE: How to Find the Right Flu Vaccine)

“Overwhelmingly we have had great feedback from our guests. After we rolled out the program chain-wide, we learned that 54% of people who were immunized [in Target] had no intention of getting a flu shot when they entered the store, but due to convenience and in-store messaging to create awareness, people took advantage of it,” says Ronneberg.

More “Get your flu shots here” signs have been popping up in front of neighborhood groceries and drugstores as well. This season, flu shots are offered in all Walgreens and in Healthcare Clinics in select Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies in New York. Customers can either schedule appointments or get their flu shot on a walk-in basis. And CVS pharmacies are also providing flu shots along with $5 ExtraBucks Rewards for use in the store as an incentive for its rewards program members.

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And if your local grocery has a pharmacy, chances are it may also offer flu shots, or will in the next couple years. Kroger, one of the largest American food chain retailers (it operates under other banner names like King Soopers, Ralph’s, Fry’s and Fred Meyer), provided over 1 million flu shots last year at its pharmacies in-store, and the company anticipates similar demand this year. Depending on the region, the flu shots cost from $25-$28, and Kroger pharmacists also plan to provide the FluZone HD vaccine, a higher dose shot, for seniors. The company will also carry a limited supply of the new four-strain influenza vaccine that will be available for the first time this season.

For a general list of state age limits for pharmacist administered flu shots, check out Walgreen’s list, here.