Drugstores, still struggling with a weak economy, are pushing flu vaccinations earlier and harder than ever. They've bolstered the ranks of pharmacists certified to give shots and are promoting the service through TV commercials, in-store displays, Facebook and Twitter.

CVS Caremark Corp., which is reaching out to some of its 64 million loyalty-card members via email, is letting customers book an appointment by computer, phone or in-person. Walgreen Co. is even advertising flu-shot gift cards, for $29.99, aimed at kids headed off to college and other family members, using the slogan "Arm yourself for the ones you love."

Rite Aid Corp. this year tripled to 7,400 the number of pharmacists who can administer flu shots. Walgreen has 25,000 pharmacists trained to give flu shots, up from 16,000 last year. Until recently, retail pharmacists couldn't get state certification to provide flu shots. This is the first season all 50 states will allow pharmacists to provide vaccinations. In the past, drugstores brought in outside vendors. Stores are generally charging $25 to $30 for shots.

"Not every consumer knows they can go to their pharmacist and get a flu shot," said Robert Thompson, Rite Aid's executive vice president of pharmacy.

The hope is that customers will stop in for a flu shot and pick up shampoo or a gallon of milk.

Traditionally, influenza-vaccination season started in October. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the timing be moved up by a month. Now, the shots are available before Labor Day, mixing it up with suntan lotion and back-to-school supplies.

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