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Lights, camera, action …


What kind of an impact can you make in 30 seconds or even two minutes?

For Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson, 30 seconds was plenty of time.

“I’m Walgreens’ CEO, and I’m also a pharmacist,” Wasson told TV viewers in the national commercial the company debuted early this month on stations across America. “Getting an early flu shot is the best thing you can do to protect you and your loved ones from the flu. It’s also one of the easiest things you can do. Because Walgreens is now offering seasonal flu shots every day of the week with convenient hours guaranteed, so you can just stop in. Our 16,000 dedicated pharmacists and Take Care clinic nurse practitioners are waiting to help you beat the flu in neighborhoods nationwide. At Walgreens, we want you to know there’s a way to stay well.”

That’s a pretty powerful message—and not just because it’s coming from the CEO of one of the industry’s leading chains, or even just because it reached millions of Americans. It was about timing. Timing is everything, and this couldn’t have come along at a better time.

Walgreens administered 1 million flu shots within two weeks of the rollout of its “Arm Yourself” flu shot campaign. Last year, the company gave out 1.2 million shots during the entire flu season. The program obviously drove significant incremental traffic to the stores that should show up in its September comp sales numbers. Certainly, many of the Walgreens executives at the special reception Drug Store News hosted this month at the Deerfield Hyatt to mark the release of its Sept. 14 edition—which featured a 100-page special report on the company and the things it is doing to leverage its 8,000 points of care to improve access and affordability to health care—were abuzz with talk about how busy the stores were in the past few weeks since the flu program began.

Certainly, given the state of the economy, Walgreens and other retailers are happy for the extra business that the flu already is and will continue bringing to the stores in the weeks and months ahead.

But you better believe this is even bigger than any short-term impact on same-store sales, recession or not. Because regardless of how health reform plays out in the weeks ahead, what Walgreens, CVS and the rest of the industry does to address the Great Flu Scare of 2009 will say more about the expanded role community pharmacy can play in the U.S. healthcare system than any of the hot air and vitriol coming from extremists at either end of the political spectrum. The Walgreens flu commercial is important because it is a prime example of community pharmacy showing America what it’s got.

And it wasn’t just Walgreens. CVS Caremark kicked off a major flu shot program of its own Sept. 1. The company is hosting a two-minute video on its Web site ( that uses high-level members of its clinical staff to address common myths about the flu shot—such as the one about how you can get the flu from a flu shot. “Injectible influenza vaccines are made of influenza viruses that have been inactivated, so you can’t get the flu from a flu shot,” MinuteClinic chief nursing officer Donna Haugland, FNP, tells patients. “In fact, getting a flu shot reduces your risk of getting the flu by about 70%,” she adds.

The video came on the heels of a new study from CVS Caremark, which found that more than half of consumers surveyed did not receive a flu shot in the past year; more than one-third said they believed the flu shot can make you sick.

“Myth: The flu isn’t that serious,” the video’s narrator notes. “Fact: Influenza can have serious results. It is a disease of the lungs and can lead to pneumonia.”

Added CVS Caremark chief medical officer Troy Brennan, MD: “The most important thing people need to know is that they should get the seasonal flu shot early in the season, and they should pay attention to news from public health authorities about who should be getting the H1N1 flu shot and at which time.”

To be sure, it’s not just CVS and Walgreens, either.

It’s Rite Aid, which plans to use its 2,000 certified immunizing pharmacists to give out flu shots in 1,500 of its stores throughout the entire flu season; it will contract with third-party providers in 1,400 of its other stores.

It’s Supervalu, which has introduced a number of incentives for shoppers to get their flu shots, including 20% off a future grocery bill with the purchase of a flu shot at Jewel-Osco.

It’s Safeway. “We estimate nearly $100 million in savings to the healthcare system through our program alone,” noted SVP pharmacy David Fong.

It’s RediClinic, which is promoting the availability of FluMist for needle-phobes.

It’s Walmart and Kmart and Target too, with its clinics; it’s Kroger; it’s Wegmans and Ukrops; it’s Weis Markets, Stater Bros. and Price Chopper; it’s Bartell and Kerr Drug. You would be hard-pressed to find a player in retail pharmacy that isn’t making a push around the flu right now.

So what kind of an impact can you make in 30 seconds? Or even two minutes? In the months and weeks ahead, this industry will enjoy the short-term benefits of the investments made in driving flu-shot awareness. But with health reform still on the table, the long-term benefits both to community pharmacy and 300 million Americans will be even greater.

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