Walgreen, ACCESS Join to Fight Flu - Analyst Blog

Walgreen Co. ( WAG ), the largest drugstore chain in the US, recently teamed with Access Community Health Network (ACCESS) of Chicago to accelerate flu vaccination rates in Chicago's medically-underserved communities. Together Walgreen and ACCESS launched a new program, under which over 10,000 free flu shot vouchers of Walgreen will be provided to eligible ACCESS patients. The company also informed that patients without insurance coverage for flu shots are only eligible for receiving the vouchers. The shots will be available daily at Walgreen pharmacies or Take Care Clinic for which no prior appointments are required.

With the peak months for flu activity approaching fast in Chicago, Walgreen along with ACCESS is expected to play a crucial role in protecting more people in the region's medically-underserved communities. Walgreen and ACCESS have a long-standing health care relationship focused on improving community health and reducing racial and ethnic health disparities in Chicago. Earlier in November, Walgreen opened an onsite pharmacy at the ACCESS Genesis Center for Health and Empowerment health center in Des Plaines, to provide care to the underserved Hispanic population.

In September this year, Walgreen released the first part of its Flu Impact Report series, which revealed the impact of flu and related illness on the people's life. According to the report, the last flu season led to a loss of 100 million work days along with $7 billion in lost wages and 32 million missed school days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 13% of the US population suffers from flu every year, and this increases to 20% during the active flu season.

The CDC now recommends flu shots for everyone aged over six months. Moreover, vaccination is now recommended in every season for full protection against influenza. To meet its objective of tapping into the immunization market, Walgreen has more than 27,000 certified immunizing pharmacists lined up. Through the flu shot program, Walgreen expects to serve the health care professional shortage areas (HSPA). According to the Health and Human Services ( HHS ), more than 20% of the US population lives in the HPSA. Based on its wide network of pharmacies and clinics, the company provided more than one-third of its flu shots in HPSAs during the 2009-2010 flu season.

During the last year's flu season, although industry-wide demand for shots was lower than expected, Walgreen continued to drive market share. The company is undertaking several initiatives to become a prominent player in the $40 billion immunization market. Presently, the company offers immunizations across its 7,700 stores including all Duane Reade pharmacies in New York and more than 350 Take Care Clinics.

Creating awareness for immunization against flu is common among pharmacies now. Walgreen's competitor, CVS Caremark Corporation ( CVS ) is also set to tackle this year's flu season with "You vs. Flu" campaign, under which seasonal flu vaccinations are offered through all CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic to help consumers fight flu. Also the company partnered with Direct Relief USA to offer up to $6 million in free flu shots to community clinic and health center patients who have no health insurance coverage. Over the past three years, CVS donated up to $14 million in free flu shots to uninsured patients to fight against three influenza viruses.

Drugstore chain operator Rite Aid Corp ( RAD ) is also gearing up for the immunization program that is currently underway. The company has trained 11,000 certified immunizing pharmacists to provide vaccinations at every pharmacy. The company aims to double the number of flu shots this year and has set a target of 1.5 million shots. Earlier this month, Rite Aid joined the National Influenza Vaccination Week. Along with CDC till December 17, flu shots will be available from Rite Aid certified immunizing pharmacists at all Rite Aid pharmacies for only $19.99.

Walgreen currently retains a Zacks #4 Rank (short-term 'Sell' rating). Over the long term, we have a 'Neutral' recommendation on the stock. CVS and Rite Aid both retain Zacks #2 Rank (short-term 'Buy' rating). However, we have "Neutral' recommendation on both the stocks over the long term.

CVS CAREMARK CP ( CVS ): Free Stock Analysis Report

RITE AID CORP ( RAD ): Free Stock Analysis Report

WALGREEN CO ( WAG ): Free Stock Analysis Report

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

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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