Q&A: Campaigning against the flu
Flu vaccinations have received a lot of attention lately, and that’s no surprise, considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that everyone ages 6 months and older get yearly vaccinations, not to mention the H1N1 pandemic flu scare. Now that pharmacists nationwide can administer vaccinations, pharmacy retailers across the country have mobilized to make them available to customers, making it a key part of one of the most significant shifts in health care in a long time, namely the move of many services from the doctor’s office to more accessible venues like pharmacies and retail clinics.
Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of French drug maker Sanofi, recently unveiled an effort to promote flu vaccinations that includes advertising and celebrity endorsements. DSN had the opportunity to talk to Sanofi Pasteur director of U.S. public relations and communications Michael Szumera about the campaign.
DSN: There have been numerous efforts to promote flu vaccinations lately, but yours is particularly notable, given the amount of money being spent. What explains the scale of your campaign?
Szumera: Sanofi Pasteur believes it is important to educate adult consumers about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options. Our campaign targets adults 18 through 64 years of age because they have some of the lowest immunization rates in the United States. Each year in the United States, 1-in-5 people, or up to 20% of the population gets the flu, and on average, influenza and its related complications result in approximately 226,000 hospitalizations. Combined with pneumonia, influenza is the nation’s ninth leading cause of death. Adults need to better understand that vaccination is safe and effective and the best way to help prevent influenza and its complications.
DSN: How do you plan to influence the public?
Szumera: The goal of the Fluzone Intradermal vaccine DTC campaign is to raise awareness among adult consumers about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options, including Fluzone Intradermal vaccine. Adults are often overlooked but at risk to contract influenza and spread the virus to others, including persons at high-risk, such as children and older adults.
Components of the program include a national advertising campaign, comprehensive national public awareness program with actor Chris O’Donnell, and local market events with retail pharmacy partners. All activities are focused on educating adults 18 through 64 years of age about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options, including Fluzone Intradermal vaccine, to help protect adults against this potentially deadly disease.
DSN: What kinds of roles can pharmacy retailers play in your campaign?
Szumera: Obtaining an annual influenza vaccination is becoming more and more convenient for people. Influenza vaccines are now widely available at retail stores, pharmacies, workplace flu clinics and many more places. Pharmacists play a key role in educating people about the importance of vaccination and the options available.
Increasing access to influenza vaccine is an important step in improving vaccination rates, particularly among adults 18 to 64 years of age. Retail pharmacies provide another option for adults to be vaccinated. Fluzone Intradermal vaccine is available at physician practices, as well as retail pharmacies. The website Fluzone.com allows consumers to search where the vaccine is available in their area.
Low vaccination rates among adults have prompted retail pharmacies — Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS — to bring the Coop de Quill VacciNation Tour to cities across the country. The retail pharmacies are hosting flu clinic events to bring Fluzone Intradermal vaccine to local residents. At each tour stop event, attendees will have the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with a clinic pharmacist to better understand the importance of annual influenza vaccination, how to protect themselves and their loved ones, and available vaccine options. Attendees can also get immunized at the flu clinics.
DSN: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in addressing influenza and vaccinations?
Szumera: According to the CDC, everyone 6 months of age and older should receive an annual influenza vaccination, yet on average, only a third of adults in the United States 18 through 64 years of age are immunized, leaving far too many unprotected and at risk for spreading the virus to those at high-risk like young children and older adults.
Results from a recent telephone survey commissioned by Sanofi Pasteur of 663 adults revealed these low rates highlight a disconnect between fear and action, as two out of every three (67%) of adults 18 through 64 years of age said if they had influenza, they fear spreading the virus to their loved ones, yet 3-in-5 (61%) adults said they are not vaccinated annually. In the same survey, 53% of adults 18 through 64 years of age who were vaccinated annually reported that their vaccination experience would be better if the needle was much smaller, and 65% said their experience would be better if access to the flu shot was more convenient.
The opportunity to educate adults about the flu and vaccine options is key. Adults need to understand that the single most important thing they can do to help prevent getting or spreading the flu is to get their annual flu vaccination, and they should speak to their healthcare provider about which vaccination option may be right for them.
Immunization offerings expand past flu, shingles
While much of the focus on pharmacist-administered vaccinations has been on influenza and shingles, there also have been efforts to significantly expand the number of diseases against which customers at the local pharmacy can get protection.
Last month, warehouse retailer Sam’s Club announced that it would offer 10 immunizations at its 552 pharmacies for cold and flu season. In partnership with Mollen Immunization Clinics, it’s also offering an expanded menu of immunizations by registered nurses through Nov. 15. The immunizations include flu, pneumonia, chickenpox, shingles, Tdap, human papillomavirus, MMR, meningitis and hepatitis A and B. Around the same time, Miami-based regional retail pharmacy chain Navarro Discount Pharmacy announced it would expand its selection of available vaccines to include shingles and pneumonia at all of its stores.
Another opportunity that exists for pharmacy retailers is specialization in areas like travel vaccinations, such as those for hepatitis A and B. Seattle-based regional chain Bartell Drugs has offered comprehensive travel clinics at several of its stores for a while now, and other retailers are doing the same.
In August, an education session at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Pharmacy and Technology Conference in Denver presented some of the opportunities and challenges involved in travel medicine. Travel medicine requires expertise on a number of subjects, such as patient education, immunization and pharmacology. “These are things pharmacists are already very skilled at or can easily become skilled at,” the session’s presenter, University of Southern California pharmacy professor Jeff Goad, said. Vaccines, he added, are only part of it.
Pharmacy retailers looking to get involved with travel medicine also should consider carrying products travelers would need, particularly if they’re going to developing countries. These include water purification tablets, mosquito nets and insect repellents. In addition, pharmacists consulting prospective travelers should know ways to deal with such noninfectious conditions as jet lag and altitude sickness.
Travel medicine requires some investment on the retailer’s part, such as setting aside an area to provide services, necessary education for the pharmacist and stocking up on travel-related products, Goad said, as well as collaborative practice agreements with physicians that may be needed for certain vaccinations and medications, travel medicine software, and in many states, a special stamp that certifies a pharmacy for delivering yellow fever vaccinations.
In-store, online benefits target cardholders
While CVS/pharmacy’s store clustering initiatives and store brands are fueling front-store profitability, there’s no doubt that its successful, long-standing ExtraCare loyalty program remains a key driver of front-store sales, and it arms the company with a powerful competitive advantage, especially as CVS looks to take the program to new heights.
“Our ExtraCare loyalty program continues to be a key differentiator; and now with more than 15 years of history, today we have roughly 70 million active cardholders. And our vast wealth of experience enables us to continue to develop both new and better ways to enhance the offering for our customers,” Larry Merlo, CVS Caremark president and CEO, said during its second-quarter conference call.
In a major nod to the program’s success, 67% of CVS’ transactions and 82% of its front-store sales go through the ExtraCare program. Plus, research has shown that card members buy 85% more items per trip compared with other customers.
The ExtraCare loyalty program also is enabling CVS to address the newspaper challenge, which has negatively impacted the circulation of its circulars. While the retailer plans to still promote via its circulars, it will reduce pages over time to fund its digital promotions and is piloting in 2012 a personalized circular. As previously reported by Drug Store News, the personalized circular will enable CVS to target its ExtraCare users, via email or via its website, with offers specific to their needs based on their front-store purchasing history.
The retailer also is working to capture a greater share of the shopper’s wallet — especially within health and beauty. This has given rise to the January 2011 launch of the first-ever beauty club program for the retail pharmacy channel.
The Beauty Club provides ExtraCare cardholders who register their cards with additional rewards on beauty purchases and other beauty-specific benefits. The Beauty Club currently has 13 million members.
As reported, the company also is piloting a healthy rewards program to provide added incentives and encourage even greater pharmacy loyalty. If successful, the pilot will roll out nationally in 2013.
It’s a digital world
Leveraging the deep understanding of its customer base via insights gained through its ExtraCare loyalty program, CVS/pharmacy officially unveiled in June a new personalized digital experience on CVS.com, which features extensive health information and resources in addition to customized deals and savings information. The site also features a hub for ExtraCare members to help them manage their savings and deals.
“The beauty of digital is that the technology is now catching up with what it is that we want to create for our customers. The technology can support giving them the level of service, even when they are not at the store, to make them healthier, to enhance their ability to save money; and for us, what is so exciting is that now the technology is becoming so adaptable that we can really unleash our imagination to solve customers’ problems in ways that previously we’ve only dreamed about,” Rob Price, SVP and chief marketing officer for CVS/pharmacy, told DSN in an interview to announce the launch.
The company also is putting considerable energy into developing mobile offerings. For example, pharmacy patients can enroll for text message notifications for prescription pickup, and smartphone users can now use the expanded CVS Mobile App to print photos directly from their smartphone camera or their CVSphoto.com account for same-day pickup.
In addition to printing photos from smartphones, shoppers using the CVS mobile app also can digitally store ExtraCare card information in their smartphones, manage and refill prescriptions and view prescription history, and access full mCommerce shopping.