CHICAGO - Walgreen Co aims to offer the H1N1 vaccine shot in all 50 states by the end of December, a move that could help the largest U.S. drugstore chain bring more consumers into its stores and clinics.
Walgreen, which operates Walgreens drugstores and Take Care clinics, is already offering the H1N1 vaccine at about 1,500 locations in 27 states and the District of Columbia.
Rival CVS Caremark Corp said separately on Wednesday that it was offering vaccinations against H1N1, or swine flu, in 20 U.S. states and Washington D.C. [ID:nWEN7597]
Walgreen is working with government agencies in remaining states to receive and distribute the vaccine and aims to offer the vaccine in all 50 states by the end of the month. It has so far administered about 200,000 H1N1 vaccinations at its stores and clinics.
The H1N1 vaccination push comes after Walgreen administered 5 million seasonal flu shots this year, more than four times as many as it did in 2008. Most Take Care clinics are still administering seasonal flu shots.
The sharp increase in flu vaccinations this year helped Walgreen's sales rise 7.7 percent to $58.63 billion in the latest quarter. The company plans to release full fiscal first-quarter results on December 21.
CVS cut its seasonal flu-shot clinics short in October, citing delays in getting the vaccine from manufacturers. [ID:nN15305403] The company said on Wednesday it had restocked seasonal flu shots, which are available at MinuteClinic locations.
Shares in Walgreen rose 0.7 percent early on Wednesday while CVS gained 0.2 percent.
PRIORITY RESTRICTIONS LIFTED IN MANY STATES
Until now, Walgreen had been providing the H1N1 vaccine in only a few markets to people given priority in accordance with guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as pregnant women and healthcare workers.
Several states have lifted those restrictions, making it easier for the general public to get vaccinated as long as they meet state age requirements.
The CDC has said that swine flu has infected one in six people in the United States since arriving in April and killed nearly 10,000. In a typical year, seasonal influenza kills 36,000 Americans.
The CDC recently said that 94.6 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine had been made available for distribution so far.
Walgreen is charging $18 per shot, and said the cost may be covered by insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid. Seasonal flu shots cost about $24.99 at the chain. (Additional reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Lisa Von Ahn, Dave Zimmerman)