Drug store chain rescinds flu shot 'guarantee'

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on August 5, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Updated Thursday, Aug 5 at 12:05 AM

DALLAS — The CDC is telling county health departments that flu shots will be available early this season — perhaps as soon as September 1 — but there are no guarantees.

One major retailer, however, is making a guarantee that you will be able to get a combined seasonal and swine flu shot even if there are shortages.

You remember what happened a year ago: Lines wrapped around buildings as thousands of North Texans clamored for the limited supply of swine flu vaccine.

At the same time, seasonal flu vaccine ran out as demand for any sort of influenza protection surged.

This year, the CDC is combining both vaccines into a single dose. That means seniors — who were initially ineligible to receive the H1N1 shot last year — will have access right away.

No one knows if that factor could prompt an early run on vaccine, triggering renewed shortages.

So this year, Walgreens drug stores nationwide are offering "Flu Shot Gift Cards."

"We're doing it to promote good health care and everyone being healthy this season," said Walgreens pharmacist Melody Alexander. For $29.99 (paid in advance) the card "secures vaccine availability" for its recipient, and "guarantees the flu and H1N1 shot in one, even in case of shortages."

Can this purchase equal its promise?

"We have enough vaccine to be able to take care of every customer that comes in," Alexander said. "We will be able to give everyone a flu shot this year, yes."

Last year, Walgreens doled out 5.4 million shots nationwide, but like its competitors, it ran out of the vaccine.

News 8 showed the card to Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zach Thompson, who has battled the system for years. He said when it comes to vaccines, any "guarantee" is dicey.

"I think to say this early in the process that we're going to have enough vaccine available, I think you're putting yourself out there," Thompson said. "We don't know. It's hard to say that you can guarantee that the vaccine is going to be available."

After News 8 inquired, Walgreens adjusted its marketing of the flu shot card, removing the word "guarantee."

Walgreens has now added this disclaimer: "If the supply of vaccine is depleted," the flu shot gift card will be "honored during the following flu season" for "up to five years."

Fourteen drug manufacturers this year are pledging to make more than enough vaccine to meet the demand.

But only one thing, according to medical experts, is safe to say: Flu season is coming.

Guaranteed.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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