NEW YORK, May 26 (Reuters) – The US pharmaceutical chain is preparing a big push for flu vaccinations when the season starts in October, hoping to curb tens of thousands of serious cases that could coincide with the second wave of coronavirus virus infection.
CVS Health Corp, one of the largest pharmacies in the US, said it was working to ensure the availability of vaccine doses to anticipate surges in customers who were looking for injections to protect against seasonal influenza.
Rite Aid Corp’s competitor chain has ordered 40 percent more vaccine doses to meet expected demand. Walmart Inc. and Walgreens Boots Alliance say they also expect more Americans to look for these photos.
Drug makers are increasing to meet demand. Australian vaccine maker CSL Ltd. Seqirus said demand from customers has increased 10 percent. UK-based GlaxoSmithKline says it is ready to increase production as needed.
A Reuters / Ipsos poll of 4,428 adults conducted May 13-19 found that around 60 percent of US adults plan to get the flu vaccine in the fall. Usually less than half of Americans get vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccines for all people over the age of 6 months.
Getting a flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by a new corona virus for which there is no approved vaccine. Public health officials say vaccinating against the flu will be very important to help prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with flu and COVID-19 patients.
“We are ready to carry out a double strike this fall and winter with the flu and COVID. The flu is the only thing you can do, “said infectious disease expert Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dr. William Schaffner.
Drug makers last year produced nearly 170 million doses of influenza vaccine, according to the CDC. There were up to 740,000 hospitalizations and 62,000 deaths in the 2019-2020 flu season which ended last month, the CDC said.
While health insurance usually includes flu shots at doctors’ offices and other groups offering free flu vaccine clinics, adult vaccines are sold for around $ 40, bringing the US market up to $ 6.8 billion. The CDC gets several doses at a discounted price in its children’s vaccination program.
Global income for influenza vaccines is around $ 5 billion, according to the Wall Street company Bernstein, and in the United States each additional 1 percentage point of Americans who get a vaccine worth $ 75 million in revenue for drug makers.
CDC Director Robert Redfield said that the combination of flu and COVID-19 could reduce the number of victims in America compared to the initial outbreak of coronavirus that began this winter.
Some experts say creative ways must be developed to ensure that people are vaccinated against the flu because patients are less likely to see their doctor directly for fear of being infected with coronavirus in a medical office.
Pharmacies, public health clinics and other flu injection providers may need to develop pushing clinics – popular with COVID-19 diagnostic tests – for flu vaccines, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.
“My goal is that every dose of vaccine made goes into someone’s arm to protect it. “I don’t want any vaccine left on the shelf or in the doctor’s office,” Messonnier said in an interview.
One reason for reluctance among Americans to get flu shots is because it does not always prevent disease, partly because the flu strain chosen as the vaccine target a few months earlier does not always match the dominant flu strain that actually circulates in any season. But reliable injections reduce hospitalization every year, according to experts.
“Even if it protects 35 to 40 percent of the population, it’s far better than zero,” said University of Minnesota influenza expert Dr. Michael Osterholm.
In a survey commissioned by CVS Health between January and May, consumers who said they were certain or likely to get flu shots rose from 34 percent to 65 percent. They also said that they would go to the pharmacy more often and less often to the doctor’s office or health care center.
The head of Rite Aid Pharmacy, Jocelyn Konrad said the pharmaceutical chain, which provided around 2.6 million flu shots last year, increased its orders by 40 percent this year.
Rite Aid said the social distance policy could cut to the flu clinic at work but that he might offer a voucher program for employers and was considering setting up a drive-through clinic. In Australia, where the winter flu season is taking place, these sites are already in use.
Some US doctors are also considering clinics in parks and community centers and even home visits for vulnerable patients, said David Ross, vice president of commercial operations for North America in Seqirus.
“When we look at immunization this coming fall, it will play a very big role in this battle against COVID-19,” Ross said. (Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Additional reporting by Grant Smith in New York; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Will Dunham)
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