CVS’s Handmade Flu Shot Signs

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

A flu shot is a good way to avoid learning if pumpkin spice cough drops are as nauseating as they sound. On a recent visit to the CVS in Harvard Square1, I came upon the following sign advertising that very service:

Don't gamble on the flu / Let us vaccinate youCVS Store #240

I was struck by the non-corporate nature of this sign, and particularly amused by its arts and crafts style. My hunch was that someone had made it with supplies from the store itself. I could easily picture them grabbing a deck of cards2, a few markers, and a piece of poster board, then putting this all together. A close inspection shows the sign even has a border of Christmas lights on it, though they were not illuminated at the time. While the whole thing was probably assembled in a back office, I’d like to imagine its creator sprawled out in the middle of a less-visited aisle, looking exactly like a middle schooler working on a science fair project.

As I do so many times when something amuses me, I snapped a picture before moving on with both my shopping and my afternoon. The following day, however, I needed something from the CVS near my house (Store #1900). As I entered, I came face to face with another handmade sign:

Don't let the flu knock you out / See your pharmacist todayCVS Store #1900

Where’d the second letter “k” in “knock” go? Its absence gave the effort a delightfully homemade feel. Meanwhile, the boxing theme was likely inspired by a nearby statue of Boston welterweight Tony DeMarco, which sits just across the street from the CVS store in question. Here it is on Google Maps:

CVS and Tony DeMarco StatueLeft Circle: CVS Store #1900; Right Circle: Tony DeMarco Statue
[Photo credit: Google Maps Street View]

Finding two different handmade signs in two CVS stores multiple miles apart seemed like quite a coincidence. I began to suspect something was up, and immediately headed over to the other CVS near my house (Store #4666) to see if they had a similar sign. However, a quick look around that store turned up nothing. I left thinking that perhaps it was mere chance that the first two stores were advertising flu shots in similar fashion.

It took a few days, but that line of reasoning was eventually shot down at the Porter Square CVS (Store #717). While contemplating the rather alarming frequency with which I was finding myself inside CVS stores, I stumbled on a third handmade sign:

Don't get sidelined by the flu / Tackle it with a flu shot todayCVS Store #717

This sign was bizarrely hung at about hip level, and the legibility was not great, but it did contain an impressive amount of detail. Given the end zone markings, we can surmise that “The Flu” is squaring off in some sort of football bowl game against “CVS Pharmacy”. Zooming in on the center of that image enables us to see some rather crooked play.

Caped pharmacist with needle taking down a flu player
In the words of The Tick, that’s dirty pool!

That pharmacist appears to have used a massive needle to take down his opponent. That’s surely a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, if not grounds for outright ejection. The pharmacist also appears to be wearing a cape, which is an extremely inadvisable choice of uniform for football.

Once I saw this third sign, I was certain I’d find more at other stores. That very day, I visited several additional locations to document more of these signs. I don’t have a lot going on in my life.

Don't get sick as a dog! Get a flu shot todayCVS Store #1022

This sign loses a few points for being hung way at the back of the store, but gets them back because it was in the pharmacy waiting area, where people are sure to have time to notice it. It also earns bonus points for the use of a cute dog.

Don't get caught! Get the shot!CVS Store #25

Speaking of cute, this little flu guy is adorable, and helpfully labeled to boot. I’m not entirely convinced I shouldn’t let him catch me.

Spread the word, not the fluCVS Store #1012

This sign’s lack of any real art made it a little bland beyond its bright colors. However, the inclusion of the coupon in the bottom right is intriguing. Are there people out there who wouldn’t normally bother to get a flu shot, but will change their minds if offered a $5 off coupon for their CVS purchase of $25 or more? Probably!

Get your flu shot at your favorite spot with your local CVS crewCVS Store #260

CVS Store #260 was easily the smallest I visited, and they had a correspondingly tiny sign. Rather than a large sheet of poster board, this is a single 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper. Despite its cramped quarters, the store does offer a photo printing center which these smiling pharmacists no doubt used. This is a decent quick and dirty effort, but there’s a lot of text, and those hashtags are absolute trash.

As I headed home after a long day of visiting pharmacies, I passed by that second CVS near my house, Store #4666. Coming in through a different entrance, I saw this:

Spread the word, not the fluCVS Store #4666

I don’t know how I missed it the first time through. It’s possible they’d spent extra hours (or even days) working on the details of that needle, and hadn’t yet posted it when I came by on my earlier visit. Either way, it was now obvious that every nearby store had a sign touting flu shots, and that no two of them were alike.

Conclusions

After tracking down these eight signs, I’ve come to two conclusions. First, it seems certain that CVS issued a directive that their stores advertise the availability of flu shots, but chose not to provide any official signage to display. Did this memo suggest making the signs with materials on hand? Was there a budget which would be reimbursed? Or even a time challenge? If we’re lucky, some reader out there will clue us all in to the exact details.

My second conclusion is a bit more prosaic, but still worth noting: There are an absolute assload of CVS stores around Boston. The store numbering system hints at how common CVS locations must be, but many of them blended into the background until I sought them out. Now, it’s clear to me that you can barely go a block without passing a CVS. Each and every one of them is full of people eager to stab you in the arm with a needle. Most of them are even health care professionals who are paid to be there.


Footnotes:

  1. For many years, Harvard Square had two CVS stores within about a hundred yards of one another. There was the good two-story location at 1426 Massachusetts Avenue, and the drastically inferior single-story location at 29 JFK Street. The JFK store had a cramped interior with dingy carpeting, and was best avoided if possible. Of course, it was entirely possible to avoid it, because there was another CVS just up the street. I just said that!

    Yet two years ago, CVS announced plans for another location, at 6 JFK Street. For a brief few weeks in 2015, there were three CVS stores open within spitting distance of one another. The dumpy 29 JFK store closed soon after the 6 JFK location opened, and more recently, the 1426 Mass Ave store closed as well. Harvard Square is now down to a much more reasonable number of CVS stores.

    For more on the comings and goings of retail stores in the greater Boston area, see this post on Store 24. ↩︎

  2. I have a vivid memory of going to a CVS years ago to purchase playing cards and poker chips. I didn’t know quite where I’d find them, but I was certain that I’d seen them in every CVS I’d ever been in, on the end cap of a random aisle. Sure enough, that’s where I found them. ↩︎


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