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Publicly funded flu shots are not “free”

October 28, 2020
Advertising them as such may be misleading to the public.

ACP discourages pharmacy teams from using the term “free” in their promotion and advertising of publicly funded influenza immunizations.

The term “free” is frequently used in advertising, promotions, news stories, and in casual conversations about publicly funded influenza immunizations. While a patient doesn’t have to pay “out of pocket” to receive a publicly funded influenza immunization, describing flu shots as being “free” can have unintended repercussions.

Rather than using “free” in advertising and promotions, the college encourages pharmacy teams to describe publicly funded flu shots being offered “at no direct cost to the patient” or similar wording.

Why not promote or advertise that flu shots are “free?”

  • If a third party—in this case, Alberta Health—is paying for the service, it is not “free” and patients should be aware that there is a cost to the province.
  • Advertising flu shots as being “free” may be a breach of the Pharmacy and Drug Regulation. Section 24(1)(a) of the regulation states, “A licensee and a proprietor must ensure that advertising in relation to a licensed pharmacy is not false or misleading.”
  • Doing so may also violate Section 102 of the Health Professions Act, which states, “A regulated member shall not engage in advertising that is untruthful, inaccurate or otherwise capable of misleading or misinforming the public.”
  • Referring to flu shots as being “free” potentially devalues the professional expertise pharmacists provide. Immunizations require a pharmacist’s
    • skills in assessment and administering drugs by injection;
    • knowledge of medications and potential interactions; and
    • time to review and interpret appropriate information (e.g., Netcare), document, and collaborate with other members of the patient’s healthcare team.

For more on the 2020-21 influenza immunization program and policies, visit ACP’s Seasonal influenza information webpage.