If you want a flu shot, you can get it

High vaccine supply leads to price cuts

Staff WriterDecember 24, 2010 

This year, it's almost impossible to come up with an excuse not to get a flu shot.

An over-supply of flu vaccine has meant no delays, no shortages. Doctors, clinics and drugstores that ran out of vaccine before Christmas last year are still sitting on hundreds of doses.

Some are offering the flu shots at a discount in a bid to cut losses and clear out stockpiles.

"Basically, at this point, I'm just trying to cover my cost," said Thomas Haugh, practice administrator of Accent Urgent Care. "I'm sitting on several hundred vaccines. Come end of January, I'm going to eat that cost."

Accent Urgent Care, with locations in Raleigh and Cary, cut its price to $15 from $25 per dose in mid-November. This year the clinic ordered 700 doses, down from about 1,000 ordered last year.

But with a mild flu season so far and muted warnings of a killer swine flu, demand at the clinic has slacked off.

Doctors and pharmacies are reporting a similar situation throughout the Triangle and nationwide.

In a bid to boost business and anticipating strong demand, drugstores and grocery chains stocked up early and aggressively promoted flu shots several months before the flu season. This year CVS for the first time offered shots at every store, rather than having nursing stations scheduled at specific hours of the week.

CVS now is offering customers who come in to a store for their flu shot a 10 percent discount on shopping.

Kroger has cut its price for a flu shot from $24.99 to $19.99. The grocery store chain also is offering the inoculations free to people who are uninsured.

More doses produced

It's not that fewer people are getting the shots. The Centers for Disease Control reports that a third of Americans have gotten the vaccine, about the same as last year.

A big change is that vaccine manufacturers made more after last year's shortages amid fears of a pandemic.

The manufacturers produced 163 million doses this year, up from 110 million doses last year, largely in response to a new federal recommendation, issued this summer, that all Americans ages 6 months or older should be inoculated. The previous recommendation was for ages 6 months to age 18 and those ages 50 and above, as well as people with asthma, heart disease and other conditions.

Vaccines are not identical from one year to the next. They are designed to target specific flu strains that experts predict to be most likely. This year's vaccine fights three strains: the H1N1 and two seasonal varieties.

Season has just begun

Experts note the flu season has just begun and the worst is yet to come. According to state health data, in previous years the flu has peaked between December and March. When relatives and co-workers start getting sick, health care workers expect the stragglers to come get their shots.

So far this flu season, the state has reported no deaths caused by flu. Between April 2009 and May 2010, the state counted 107 flu deaths, primarily attributed to H1N1, also known as the swine flu.

John Holly, a doctor at Brier Creek Medical Group in Raleigh, is convinced that last year's public health campaign prevented a large-scale outbreak of the flu by scaring people into getting the shots.

This year his medical practice ordered 500 doses and has about 290 left.

"I think it's a good thing to have more than you need than not enough," he said.

john.murawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service