updated 8/31/2009 7:26:17 PM ET 2009-08-31T23:26:17

Drugstore operators are beginning their seasonal flu shot campaigns several weeks early this year, saying they expect greater demand for the vaccine in a year when the swine flu strain has dominated the news.

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CVS Caremark Corp. and Walgreen Co. are making flu shots available starting Tuesday, while Rite Aid Corp. said some of its pharmacists are already giving the shots. The vaccine is intended to prevent the seasonal flu and is separate from vaccines for swine flu. A swine flu vaccine could be ready by mid-October.

CVS said it was offering the shots three or four weeks earlier than usual. Walgreen said it started giving flu shots Oct. 1 last year.

CVS and Walgreen each run about 6,900 stores around the country, while Rite Aid has about 4,800. Walgreen said the shots will be available at almost all of its stores and about 350 of its Take Care retail clinics, and CVS said it will give the shots at scheduled events in many of its stores and at all 500 of its walk-in MinuteClinics. Pharmacists at about 1,500 Rite Aid stores will be able to give the vaccination.

Walgreen pharmacies and clinics will have an immunizing pharmacist on duty daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Sept. 8 to Sept. 30. Starting Sept. 15, CVS said it will hold more than 9,000 "flu shot clinic events" at its stores, where pharmacists or other health care workers will give the injections. Rite Aid, which is based in Camp Hill, Pa., will run clinics at more than 1,800 of its stores starting Sept. 23.

CVS and Rite Aid will post schedules of the clinics on their Web sites.

CVS, of Woonsocket, R.I., will also give away 100,000 free seasonal flu shots to unemployed people. The company will give out vouchers for the free shots at certain One-Stop Career Centers, which are sponsored by the Labor Department. The shots will be administered at CVS pharmacies and MinuteClinics.

The locations and dates of the offer have not been determined. CVS said the free shots will cost it about $3 million.

Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen is giving out $1 million worth of vaccine to people with no insurance. It will send nine tour buses to select markets nationwide with employees distributing vouchers for the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for children, the elderly, caregivers, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems or many other chronic health problems. According to a Walgreen survey, 50 percent of consumers are planning to get the shot this year, up from 43 percent in 2008.

Dr. Troyen Brennan, CVS's Chief Medical Officer, said most of the experts he has spoken to are expecting greater demand for the vaccine this year because of the swine flu pandemic. Several companies are testing swine flu vaccines, which may be administered as one shot or two.

The flu shot contains flu virus particles that are already dead, the CDC says, so it is not possible to get the flu from the vaccine.

According to the agency, about 226,000 Americans are hospitalized with the flu each year, and about 36,000 die.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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