BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores here has cancelled plans to offer a national influenza-vaccination program in its pharmacies this year, using an intranasal product, a company spokeswoman confirmed. Several supermarket chains, however, will carry it.
The retailing giant, which previously had no national flu-shot program, was to carry FluMist, produced by MedImmune, Gaithersburg, Md., in 1,000 stores. The product is marketed by Wyeth Vaccines, Philadelphia.
The product is for healthy people between the ages of five and 49, according to the company's Web site, and especially for those with an aversion to injections. It costs about $50, said media reports, more than twice that of the typical flu shot. FluMist is a prescription item that must be kept frozen until it is administered by the pharmacist.
"As we got closer to the start of the program, we began receiving questions about the implementation of the product and about the legal ability to administer this product from several state boards of pharmacies," said Danette Thompson, spokeswoman.
Proper training for pharmacists was another concern, she said, in addition to "the need to develop adequate communication" about the flu program before the peak flu-season period began. Wal-Mart will continue to evaluate its participation in the FluMist program in the future, she said.
"There were operational and logistics issues" at Wal-Mart, said Jamie Lacey, spokeswoman, MedImmune. Two obstacles hindered Wal-Mart from carrying out the program: the lack of previous experience with flu-vaccination programs, and trying to do a national program in the face of varying state regulations. Thirty-seven states now allow pharmacists to administer vaccines, she said.
"Wal-Mart has deferred for this season. But we feel that we got off on the right foot with them, and established a very good working relationship. We look forward to continuing to speak to them, and to possibly working with them in future seasons," Lacey said.
However, many supermarket pharmacies will carry FluMist, she said. Among them: individual Kroger and Safeway stores, Albertsons, Ukrop's, Hy-Vee, and Giant Food of Landover, Md. "We are still talking to several chains, and adding more on a regular basis," Lacey said.
Giant Food is carrying FluMist in 34 stores, said John Fegan, vice president, pharmacy, Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va. Virginia is a state where pharmacists are allowed to provide the FluMist inoculation with a doctor's approval, he noted.
"We do recognize that some people have an aversion to syringes. We looked at the marketplace, we looked at the pharmacists' involvement, and we felt that this was truly an opportunity for the pharmacist to continue to show what they can do for the public in the health care arena. So we made the decision to implement it," Fegan said.
Because FluMist has to be frozen until used, the retailer also had to invest in storage equipment, he said. The product thaws quickly in the pharmacist's hand immediately prior to application, he said.
At Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., John Beckner, director, pharmacy and whole health, said, "I don't really think it will appreciably affect our immunization [program]. I think we'll do more immunizations overall because FluMist helps raise awareness about the importance of protecting against the flu."
Although the price of MedImmune's stock dropped sharply when Wal-Mart canceled its plans to offer FluMist, Lacey pointed out that this is the first year for the product, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June. "We are continuing to move forward with our sales and marketing efforts. We are adding pharmacies and doctor's offices on a regular basis. Given that it is early in the flu season and this is the first year, we are optimistic. But it is too soon to tell exactly how the season will play out," she said.