Convenience is touted. So are incentives. CVS offers a 20-percent-off shopping pass for everyone who gets a shot, while Walgreens donates toward international vaccination efforts.
The start of flu season is still weeks, if not months, away. Yet marketing of the vaccine has become an almost year-round effort that starts when the shots become available in August and is hyped as long as the supply lasts — often into April or May.
Not that long ago, most flu-shot campaigns started as the leaves began to turn in October. But two things have stretched the flu-shot season: the decade-long increase in the number of drugstores that have a retail medical clinic inside, and state laws that allow pharmacists to give vaccinations.
Drugstores have figured out how “to deliver medical services in an on-demand way,” says Tom Charland, founder and CEO of Merchant Medicine, which tracks the walk-in clinic industry. The approach appeals to customers, particularly millennials, and turns out to be good business.
“It’s a way to get people into the store to buy other things,” Charland says.
But some doctors warn the marketing may be overtaking medical wisdom, since it’s unclear how long the immunity imparted by the vaccine lasts, particularly in older people.
Federal health officials say it’s better to get the shot whenever you can. An early flu shot is better than no flu shot at all. But the science is mixed when it comes to how long you’ll get optimal protection from a flu shot promoted and given during the waning days of summer; the typical flu season peaks in mid-winter or beyond. Immunologists and public health officials are divided on how patients should respond to such offers.
“If you’re over 65, don’t get the flu vaccine in September. Or August. It’s a marketing scheme,” says Laura Haynes, an immunologist at the …