by Kate McMahon

It’s prime flu shot season, and retailers are hoping that if you give ‘em your left arm, your heart, soul and wallet will follow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone who is eligible gets the 2017-2018 influenza vaccine, preferably by the end of October, since it takes two weeks to become effective. A recent Harris Poll survey conducted for CVS found nearly 61% of Americans get a flu shot every year, or plan to get one this year, up 2% from last year’s study.

Some 44% said they receive their flu shot from a primary care provider or health care professional, while 22% get the shot at either their local pharmacy/retailer or at their workplace. There was a 7% increase in the number of people who got the vaccine at work.

For retailers, it’s an opportunity not just to give a shot, but to play a role in a customer’s health and wellness. And major chains are offering both financial and more altruistic incentives to get customers to roll up their sleeves.

For example, Kroger will donate one meal for every flu shot administered at its pharmacies and The Little Clinic locations as part of its second annual health-and-wellness campaign.

Last year’s inaugural One Shot, One Meal partnership with the hunger relief organization Feeding America delivered 330 million meals through food bank networks.

Walgreens is promoting wellness on a global scale with its Get a Shot/ Give A Shot campaign. For every flu shot or other immunization provided, Walgreens will help provide a lifesaving vaccine to a child in a developing country. Working with the United Nation’s Shot@Life Campaign, Walgreens has helped provide more than 20 million vaccines.

Other pharmacies and retailers are offering coupons and gift cards to flu shot customers. For example:

• Customers who get a flu shot at a CVS in a Target store receive a $5 Target gift card.

• At CVS stand-alone pharmacies, flu shot recipients get a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase.

• At Publix pharmacies, a flu shot yields a $10 Publix gift card.

Meanwhile, thinking outside the box, Wegmans also offers the vaccine in the store and at onsite flu clinics for employers interested in giving their workers a quick and easy way to protect themselves from the flu.

There were signs and banners for flu shots, but no incentives, when I stopped by my local Walmart and Costco this week. All of the above offer the shots on a walk-in basis, and the immunizations are free under most major insurance plans, the Affordable Care Act and Medicare Part B.

Industry research has shown that pharmacy customers are loyal, frequent shoppers. Store pharmacists are in a unique position to personally connect with the consumer, and that connection engenders loyalty and trust that extends from the prescription counter to the rest of the store.

Jodi Robinson, director of pharmacy for the Lunds & Byerlys supermarket chain in Minnesota, notes that in-store pharmacists are accessible seven days a week, are fully knowledgeable about a shopper/patient’s health and immunization history, and can offer nutritional and wellness guidance. “They are a key part of a person’s health care.”

I know I would much rather get a walk-in flu shot from a familiar pharmacy employee versus making an appointment at the doctor’s office or filling out insurance paperwork someplace new for a $5 gift card.

That said, I think the incentives could help bring in new flu-shot customers who do not have a regular pharmacy, but not prompt someone to switch all of their prescriptions for a coupon or even a philanthropic donation.

More importantly, though, pharmacies should use the annual shot as an opportunity to build on the existing relationship with the consumer. Supermarkets with in-store pharmacies in particular should maximize their one-stop health and wellness benefits.

The good news for all of the brick-and-mortar stores?

You can’t get a flu shot online.

Comments? As always, send them to me at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .