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Retailers Warned on Antibiotic Giveaways

Retailers Warned on Antibiotic Giveaways

antibiotics.jpg [3]With cold and flu season still going strong, supermarket retailers like Publix [4], Meijer [5] and Wegman’s [6] are pushing their assortment of free antibiotics. The giveaways (with prescription) are a great way to build loyalty and perform a public service, especially during these hard times.

There’s just one problem: They may not be helping.

In fact, they may be hurting. The Infectious Diseases Society of America [7] recently warned [8] supermarket retailers that antibiotics have no effect on cold and flu viruses, and that their use can actually promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant illnesses. Distributing the drugs, according to the IDSA, amounts to an “unhealthy promotional gimmick.”

“While it may make good marketing sense, promoting antibiotics at a time when we are facing a crisis of antibiotic resistance does not make good public health sense,” said IDSA president Anne Gershon, MD, in a statement.

What should supermarkets be doing? Offering free flu shots, according to the IDSA. Some prevention-minded retailers already do this, while many others offer flu shots for a fee, usually around $30.

The notion of antibiotic-resistance isn’t a new one, and retailers don’t seem to be clueless on the matter. In a recent column [9] on Wegman’s corporate website, senior official Mary Ellen Burris acknowledged the criticism, saying “we should have found a better phrase than ‘cough and cold season’ to describe the timing of the limited duration offer.”

Indeed, the IDSA’s warning is not one to be taken lightly. I can’t say for sure what retailers should do. Just this: Don’t ever put a promotional opportunity ahead of public health’s best interest.