STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
Today in Your Health, if it's fall, it's time for colds and the flu. And this year, you can get your flu shot almost anywhere, from pharmacies to grocery stores to big-box retailers. There's even one place where you can get a shot by just sticking your arm out the window of your car. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.
PATTI NEIGHMOND: This year, getting the flu vaccine is easy. There's plenty of it, and lots of new places where you can get it.
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Unidentified Woman #1: Right now at Safeway, it's a great time to load up on cereal.
NEIGHMOND: And not just cereal. There's this added benefit, too.
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Woman #1: And if you stop in today for your annual flu shot, you'll save 10 percent off your next grocery purchase. There's no appointment necessary. And this year's vaccine protects against H1N1 and two other flu viruses.
NEIGHMOND: In fact, today there are more places offering flu shots than ever before. And over a third of U.S. adults are now getting their shots in places other than a doctor's office. Take 28-year-old Lisa Brown, a graduate student in Chicago, who stopped by her local Target for some last-minute purchases.
LISA BROWN: I just had to pick up some things for school. It was cheaper to drive down here than to get them in town. And I saw that there were flu shots. So I thought, wow, how convenient. How great.
NEIGHMOND: As it turned out, there was no line, just a short computer survey to fill out. And in five minutes, says Brown, she'd had her flu shot.
BROWN: It was $24, but I got a $10 gift card. So it actually ends up only being only 14, which is great.
NEIGHMOND: This year, Target's expanded its venues for flu shots. Now, more than 1,600 Target pharmacies and health clinics offer the vaccine. And increasingly, employers are getting onboard, too, says Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: There are places where you don't even have to get out of your car. You can drive through, stick your arm out the window and get vaccinated.
NEIGHMOND: For example, on October 17th, health officials have scheduled a drive-through flu shot clinic at Kindle Ford Auto Plaza in Cape May Court House, New Jersey. Get a shot, buy a car.
But are these retail sites as safe as a doctor's office? Well, so far, says Schaffner, there've been no reports of imposters offering flu shots.
Unidentified Woman #2: Which arm do you want to do?
Unidentified Man: We'll do right arm.
NEIGHMOND: Even so, it's a good idea to check and make sure whoever's offering the shot is a licensed health care worker. Just like at this vaccine clinic at Vanderbilt Medical Center, the shots are usually given by pharmacists or nurses who are able to assess how their patients are doing.
Side effects from the shots are usually minor. They only people who might suffer a bad reaction are those with severe egg allergies.
Woman #2: You might have a little bit of soreness at the injection site. There's going to be a stick.
NEIGHMOND: The availability of vaccine this year is a far cry from last year, when manufacturers had to suddenly stop producing the annual flu vaccine in order to make the H1N1 vaccine. Dr. Schaffner.
SCHAFFNER: This year, the manufacturers have been able to make an abundance of vaccine and been able to deliver it early.
NEIGHMOND: At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Dr. Greg Poland was part of the federal advisory panel which this year says all Americans over the age of six months should get vaccinated against the flu - to protect themselves, but also to protect young infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
GREG POLAND: They cannot produce antibodies after getting the vaccine. So the only way we can protect them is to have their family members, their doctors, their nurses - all the people arrayed around them - protected against influenza so they don't transmit it to that highly vulnerable person.
NEIGHMOND: With the federal government's goal of vaccinating everyone over six months, there's no way doctors and hospitals alone could handle it, which is why Poland says it's so important places like groceries, retailers, pharmacies and work sites are stepping up to the plate.
He does see one downside.
POLAND: When you go to a department store to get your flu vaccine, then I, as a physician, don't have the opportunity to say, you know, Mrs. X, because of your age and your diabetes, you should also be considering pneumococcal vaccine. And, oh, by the way, you're also due for your mammogram and pap smear.
NEIGHMOND: Most insurance companies cover the cost of a flu shot, no matter where it's given.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News.