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FOCUS-U.S. pharmacies attract new flu shot customers as coronavirus surges

Credit: REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht

Walmart Inc, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, CVS Health Corp and Rite Aid Corp have told Reuters demand for flu shots at their U.S. pharmacies is up sharply - in some cases double from last year - as people try to protect themselves from influenza in the midst of a worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

By Caroline Humer

U.S. public health officials have been urging Americans for months to inoculate themselves against the flu, which kills about 60,000 people a year, warning of a potential "twindemic" of influenza and the novel coronavirus that could overwhelm hospitals this winter.

More Americans are choosing to get vaccinated at local pharmacies than in the past, partly due to cancellation of annual “flu shot clinics” in workplaces that remain shut by the pandemic. Walmart WMT.N reported increased demand from entire families seeking shots.

"Right out of the gate, we saw much more volume than last August," Rite Aid Chief Pharmacy Officer Jocelyn Konrad said.

She said the company has been able to keep up with the high demand and has not seen any vaccine shortages.

The shift to pharmacies is a potential boost to the country’s biggest chains that may not yet be factored into many Wall Street earnings estimates.

Cowen & Co said in a research note that the flu demand will increase profit at CVS CVS.N, forecasting that it would beat Wall Street estimates when the company reports quarterly earnings on Nov. 6.

Smaller rival Rite Aid, which provided 2.6 million shots last year, ordered 3.9 million for this year. Rite Aid's Konrad said she has been checking for availability of more vaccine if needed. A Walgreens WBA.O spokeswoman said U.S. stores are giving 50% more flu shots this year than last.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York, additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot)

((caroline.humer@thomsonreuters.com))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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