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Retailers Warned on Antibiotic Giveaways

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antibiotics.jpgWith cold and flu season still going strong, supermarket retailers like Publix, Meijer and Wegman’s are pushing their assortment of free antibiotics. The giveaways (with prescription) are a great way to build loyalty and perform a public service, especially during these hard times.

There’s just one problem: They may not be helping.

In fact, they may be hurting. The Infectious Diseases Society of America recently warned supermarket retailers that antibiotics have no effect on cold and flu viruses, and that their use can actually promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant illnesses. Distributing the drugs, according to the IDSA, amounts to an “unhealthy promotional gimmick.”

“While it may make good marketing sense, promoting antibiotics at a time when we are facing a crisis of antibiotic resistance does not make good public health sense,” said IDSA president Anne Gershon, MD, in a statement.

What should supermarkets be doing? Offering free flu shots, according to the IDSA. Some prevention-minded retailers already do this, while many others offer flu shots for a fee, usually around $30.

The notion of antibiotic-resistance isn’t a new one, and retailers don’t seem to be clueless on the matter. In a recent column on Wegman’s corporate website, senior official Mary Ellen Burris acknowledged the criticism, saying “we should have found a better phrase than ‘cough and cold season’ to describe the timing of the limited duration offer.”

Indeed, the IDSA’s warning is not one to be taken lightly. I can’t say for sure what retailers should do. Just this: Don’t ever put a promotional opportunity ahead of public health’s best interest.

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