Honor system employed at chain stores’ flu shot clinics
October 8, 2004
BALTIMORE – At the Walgreens flu shot clinic, the honor system is in place.
If you tell nurses there you have a chronic heart problem, you can get a shot. Pharmacies and grocery stores doling out shots in the midst of a major shortage are depending on customers’ good citizenship.
“We don’t want to be the flu-shot police,” said Michael Polzin, spokesman for Illinois-based Walgreens. “But we’re letting people know the situation.”
The drugstore chain contracts with Maxim Healthcare of Maryland to administer shots at 4,000 stores nationwide. Maxim also dispenses flu shots at Giant Foods, Costco and Rite-Aids across the country.
The healthcare group pledges to follow the pleadings of federal health officials. Nurses are requiring those seeking a shot to sign a form saying they are at high risk of developing complications from the flu.
Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged private vendors to withhold shots voluntarily from young, healthy patients after the government learned that the United States will get only half its expected vaccines.
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“I think we’re all trying to do the right thing,” said Steve Wright, Maxim’s national director of wellness services.
His firm received less than half of the 2 million shots it expected and has announced on its Web site http://www.findaflushot.com that it will close its clinics on Oct. 16.
Health care providers are turning away healthy adults, but “it’s more problematic” at large chain stores, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases chief at the National Institutes of Health.
He said it would be difficult for a clerk at a large store to turn away someone claiming to have a heart condition or diabetes. “They have no way of knowing that,” he said. “It’s not going to be a perfect situation.”
Ellwood Beale, 62, was among those waiting in lie for a shot Thursday night at a Baltimore Walgreens. He said he suffers from a heart condition and his doctor quickly ran out of vaccine.
While acknowledging “it’s human nature” for people to protect themselves, he said, “I think most of them are going to be honest.”
Store officials agree. Even in past years, they estimate two-thirds to three-quarters of those who lined up for vaccines were high-risk.
“That’s our target group,” said Barry Scher, spokesman for Landover, Md.-based Giant Foods, which offers shots at most of its 150 stores in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware. “We’re hoping the other 25 percent will not be upset, because this is what we have to do. We just can’t give shots to everybody.”