CHICAGO (Reuters) - Walgreen Co has H1N1 flu shots in more states than other drugstores and aims to have national distribution of the vaccine by the end of December, a move that could give it a competitive edge in luring shoppers.
Walgreen, which operates Walgreens drugstores and Take Care clinics, is already offering the H1N1 vaccine at more than 1,500 locations in 27 U.S. states and Washington D.C. Rival CVS Caremark Corp is offering vaccinations against H1N1, or swine flu, in 20 states and Washington D.C. [ID:nWEN7597]
Administering more H1N1 vaccinations could be “very constructive,” particularly for Walgreen, said Pali Capital analyst Robert Summers, who follows the drugstore industry.
“There’s really only upside. It’s probably just a matter of magnitude,” Summers said. “You can take customers away from other operators with this type of initiative.”
Walgreen has more than 17,000 workers approved to administer vaccinations. For now, it is only immunizing in less than 25 percent of its more than 7,140 stores.
No. 3 U.S. drugstore Rite Aid has doses of the H1N1 vaccine in 12 states, and orders are being shipped for more states as the vaccine becomes available. Sales at Rite Aid have lagged Walgreen and CVS in recent months.
All of the drugstores face increased competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc and others expanding on their pharmacy offerings and consumers cutting back on spending.
H1N1 vaccinations at Walmart stores are being run by Mollen Immunization Clinics, which said it plans to have H1N1 vaccines available in 30 states by the end of the week and in all states as they become available. Walmart is the largest U.S. retailer by revenue, but has fewer locations than Walgreen or CVS.
Shares in Walgreen rose 1.6 percent to $38.45 in midday trading on Wednesday. CVS fell 1.1 percent to $31.41 and Rite Aid was unchanged at $1.34.
Until now, Walgreen had been providing the H1N1 vaccine in only a few markets, giving priority to people such as pregnant women and healthcare workers, in accordance with guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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 has administered about 200,000 H1N1 vaccinations.
Walgreen and others said they were working with government agencies to receive and distribute the vaccine in more states.
For Walgreen, the push to administer H1N1 vaccines comes after it administered 5 million seasonal flu shots this year, more than four times as many as it did in 2008. Most of its 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 at MinuteClinic locations. (Additional reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Lisa Von Ahn, Dave Zimmerman and Gunna Dickson)