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HHS Teams with Walgreens to Increase Vaccinations Among Minority Groups

Vaccine vouchers will allow 350,000 to be immunized

With signs that the flu season is picking up momentum, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently unveiled a demonstration project to raise flu vaccination rates in minority groups, backed by $10 million worth of vaccine vouchers from Walgreens.

The vouchers, which can be distributed by community groups along with local and state health departments, target 15 cities with large minority populations and can be redeemed at Walgreens stores or at the company's Take Care clinics.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said numerous individuals are unprotected from the flu, including many in African American and Hispanic populations, who are more likely to have chronic medical conditions that put them at high risk for flu complications.

"Private partners are stepping up to do their part," Sebelius said. "My colleagues and I are really pleased with this opportunity."

The project also includes a communications component to boost flu vaccine awareness among minority groups, with the rollout of new public service announcements to 11,000 radio stations, said Sebelius. The HHS said in a blog post today that the National Medical Association and the National Hispanic Medical Association will be working with federal officials to raise flu vaccine awareness among providers and will test several provider-based practices, such as standing orders and reminder recall systems.

Kermit Crawford, president of pharmacy services at Walgreens, called his company's donation an important initiative in the effort to reduce health disparities among underserved groups. He said Walgreens has 26,000 pharmacists who are authorized to administer flu vaccine. "There's always an opportunity to do more by playing an integral role in protecting people," he said.

Crawford said the vouchers will allow 350,000 people to be immunized.

The demonstration project launches in eight cities: Atlanta; the Bronx, NY; Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Mo.; Newark, NJ; Oakland, Calif., and Philadelphia. The second phase of the project will target seven more sites: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Miami; Palm Beach, Fla., Seattle; Waco, Tex.; Washington, DC; parts of New York City including Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and Harlem; and northern New Hampshire.

Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the HHS, said disparities in flu vaccination rates is not new and has been a factor for far too long. "We need to reach people where they live, work, pray, and play," he added. A recent snapshot of this season's flu vaccine uptake showed that immunization rates for whites was 10% higher than for blacks or Hispanics.

Koh said the demonstration project sites represent areas that have large African American or Hispanic populations and also have Walgreens stores.

"We are very eager to work closely with Walgreens and regional health administrators to make this come alive in these communities," Koh said.


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