Incentives boost flu vaccines

Health care facilities are using store discounts and freebies to try getting people immunized.

Haley Madderom

As flu season approaches, medical experts are clamoring for University of Minnesota students, staff and faculty members to get immunized.

And in convincing them to do so, area health clinics and pharmacies are throwing discounts and freebies to them.

To reach its goal of providing 22,000 vaccinations this flu season, Boynton Health Service is pairing its free flu shots with a Tootsie Pop. Though in recent years Boynton Health Service has steadily boosted the annual number of flu shots it administers, it’s one of several clinics that has resorted to incentivizing vaccines in order to keep as many people as possible healthy through the winter months.

CVS’s Dinkytown and Stadium Village locations offer the immunization bonus of a 20-percent-off shopping pass. And a flu shot at TargetExpress, when coupled with a registration for its pharmacy rewards program, yields a 5 percent storewide discount.

Boynton, which supplies vaccinations exclusively through special flu shot events or by scheduled appointments, advertises immunizations for the benefit of “the herd,” said marketing manager Eric Jensen.

“It’s something that folks can do quick and easy — come in, get your flu shots, get a sucker and then get going,” Jensen said. “So we’ve been playing up that particular angle.”

Jensen added that the clinic’s push for immunization this fall is one of Boynton’s more “aggressive” campaigns.

Marco Yzer, an adjunct associate professor in the School of Public Health, said despite easy access to flu vaccines and the illness’s prevalence, many don’t feel the need to get a flu shot.

People aren’t convinced they need to be immunized, he said, and see influenza as a not-so-serious problem.

“Everyone has had the flu and probably expects that at some point they might get the flu again,” Yzer said. “Most of us believe that, you know, it’s not really severe even when sometimes the flu can be.”

But getting a flu immunization is a public responsibility, said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a pediatrics professor and director of the University Medical School’s pediatric infectious diseases and immunology division.

“It’s important to keep in perspective that about 40,000 people die of influenza every year — that’s more than tenfold the number of people that have died of Ebola in West Africa,” he said. “Every year we have a lethal infection that kills people in this country in an epidemic-like fashion — and [it] could be easily preventable.”

Hannah Weaver, a nutrition sophomore, said she scheduled her flu shot with friends and family in mind.

“If I get one, I’m protecting myself and other people,” she said. “My roommate doesn’t get her flu shot, so I take it upon myself to get one instead.”

Despite evidence otherwise, Yzer said many people are not convinced that getting a flu shot will actually help avoid the illness.

Though it’s possible to contract the flu even after a vaccination, he said, statistics show that society as a whole benefits when individuals get the shot.

“[But] individual people do not look at health statistics, they look at themselves,” Yzer said.

There are also business advantages to offering flu vaccines.

For some companies, providing shots is a method for bringing in potential customers, said Mike DeAngelis, CVS Pharmacy’s public relations director.

“It’s just another way we differentiate ourselves,” DeAngelis said.

And Yzer said it’s more cost-effective for clinics to prevent the flu than treat it.

But some people say they don’t need freebies or discounts to persuade them to get vaccinations.

Public relations junior Aubrey Bergstrom boasted a Target-stamped bandage on her left shoulder after she got her flu shot at the Quarry Target location without any sort of discount.

“I have [gotten a flu shot] every year,” she said, “probably because my parents don’t want me to get sick.”