Americans might not be worried about the flu season right now, but experts are already focusing on how to distribute and administer as many vaccines as possible—and how to do it safely during a pandemic.
Leading flu vaccine manufacturer Sanofi has some ideas. The French drugmaker is working with retailers and large health practices on safer alternatives to traditional vaccine appointments. Think outdoor, curbside or walk-through clinics, which feature one-way foot traffic and minimize contact.
To put those ideas into practice, the company is working with a group that represents pharmacy chains nationwide, a spokesman said.
Amid the pandemic, flu vaccines will be "more important than ever" to reduce the burden on healthcare systems, Elaine O’Hara, Sanofi’s head of vaccines in North America, told reporters on a conference call Monday. Millions of Americans most at risk of severe COVID-19 are also at a high risk from flu, she added. The CDC recommends flu vaccines for people 6 months and older.
Besides producing and shipping vaccines, Sanofi has created a program called “adaptive vaccination solutions” for health practices and retailers to encourage safe vaccinations. Safety recommendations include administering shots curbside—a la COVID-19 diagnostic testing—or in outdoor tents. Encouraging patients to sign up and provide information ahead of time could also help; all they'd need to do for their appointment is walk up and receive the vaccine.
"We can likely expect to see more of these adaptive vaccination solutions in September as people seek out flu vaccination," a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Sanofi is in the process of shipping 80 million vaccine doses for the U.S. Globally, the drugmaker is producing 250 million flu vaccine doses this year.
Aside from Sanofi’s 80 million flu vaccine doses, the U.S. is slated for 57 million doses from Seqirus and 50 million from GlaxoSmithKline, according to representatives from those companies. AstraZeneca plans to ship 8 million doses of the inhaled nasal flu vaccine FluMist. Altogether, flu vaccine makers aim to deliver a record-breaking total of nearly 200 million doses stateside.
Pharma companies aren't alone in bolstering their vaccination efforts amid the pandemic. On Monday, Walgreens said flu vaccines are now available at nearly all of its 9,100 locations nationwide. People can get flu vaccines by walking into a location or setting up an appointment ahead of time, and they should expect enhanced cleaning, social distancing and COVID-19 symptom screening, the company said.
Face coverings are required at CVS and Walgreens locations, and pharmacists at those companies will be wearing them as well. CVS said it’ll implement physical distancing at its pharmacies and require patients to answer COVID-19 screening questions.
Ahead of the flu season, CDC chief Robert Redfield has raised red flags about the tough months ahead. With the Sars-CoV-2 and influenza viruses spreading at the same time, the country faces the prospect of "the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we've ever had," Redfield told WebMD. He encouraged flu vaccination to help reduce the twin burden on the healthcare system.
But there are positive signs about the upcoming flu season from the Southern Hemisphere, Sanofi’s medical head for vaccines in North America, Michael Greenberg, told reporters. At the beginning of the year, there were “normal rates” of flu transmission, he said, but thanks to record vaccination rates and physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, there’s been a “plummeting” of flu cases in the hemisphere.