Meijer is on track to nearly double the number of flu-shot immunizations its pharmacists will give this year compared with 2019.
The news emerges as public health authorities worry about the onset of flu season as the coronavirus pandemic continues — and amid concerns about consumer willingness to get the vaccinations as social distancing and other coronavirus protection measures remain in place.
Even so, Meijer executives are expecting record-breaking turnout for patients getting their flu shots over the next few weeks.
“When it comes to getting your flu shot, the earlier in the season, the better,” said Meijer VP of Pharmacy Jason Beauch. "While the flu shot will not protect against the coronavirus, getting it as soon as you can helps protect you and your family from unwanted illness and can help reduce the potential for symptoms that could be confused with COVID-19.”
Some consumers, though, might be too worried about COVID-19 risks to seek flu shots in retail locations, recent survey data from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores suggests.
The group found that 68% of U.S. adults said that they receive a flu vaccination at least “some years.” More than a quarter of adults — 27% — said that they're more likely to get a flu shot this year. Adults considered “persuadable” in the decision to get a flu vaccination were slightly more likely to have visited a pharmacist than a primary care physician (59% versus 54%) or urgent care center (59% versus 21%) in the past 12 months, the Arlington, Virginia-based trade group said.
That said, the pandemic has increased the burden on pharmacies — including those located inside food retail stores — to make consumers feel safe enough to seek those flu vaccinations. While two-thirds of adults (67%) said that getting a flu vaccination is important to protecting health during the pandemic, the group found that the importance level was higher for such other measures as social distancing (89%) and wearing a mask (86%). The gap between those percentages represents one of the challenges for food retail pharmacists in driving up this season’s flu vaccination figures.
Even so, consumers seem to be willing to get their flu shots in retail pharmacy settings, as 65% of them comfortable getting their flu vaccination at a pharmacy, including those in grocery stores and other retailers, according to those finding. Seniors are apparently leading the way, with 70% of those 65 years or older are comfortable getting their flu vaccination at a pharmacy.
Back at Meijer, however, Beauch said that the expected increase in flu vaccinations was due to a higher awareness of the need to be protected, as well as a shift toward patients looking for more convenient options and flexibility. In fact, one-third of the flu shots the retailer has provided so far this year have taken place on weekends or before/after traditional business hours. Additionally, senior citizens and customers with chronic health conditions can take advantage of dedicated Meijer pharmacy hours from 7-8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
All Meijer pharmacists wear masks and follow specific protocols to disinfect all surfaces and areas where shots are administered between each patient, according to the retailer's specific COVID-19 protocol. Customers are required to wear masks during the vaccination. Meijer has also expanded most of its pharmacies during the past few years to include private consultation rooms where patients can receive their immunizations.
Customers can get a flu shot at any Meijer pharmacy location without an appointment during pharmacy hours. Shoppers can print their form at home and bring it with them. However, they can also complete the available form at the pharmacy or speed up their visit by scheduling their flu shot online and filling out the vaccination form on their smartphones using the retailer's new contactless texting-based pharmacy service.
Indeed, other food retailers are upping their games during this flu season. For example, Kroger's new program includes touchless in-store appointments and drive-thru vaccinations at 19 community Flu Shot Centers across the country – both of which can be booked online. Kroger Health will also provide on-site flu shot programs for businesses and organizations.
Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Meijer operates more than 245 supercenters and grocery stores throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin. The company is No. 19 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer's 2020 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America, while Kroger is No. 3 on PG's list.