Where to Get Free or the Cheapest Flu Shots (Updated 2020 List)

I’ve completely revised and updated this article to cover where to get the cheapest or even free flu shots this year – and yes, you should get a flu shot this year.




As if we needed more to worry about, the 2020-2021 flu season is here and with many hospitals across the country already being overwhelmed with COVID-19 testing and hospitalizations, this could be the most critical year in history for us to get our flu shots. On average, approximately 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu and more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. The CDC estimates seasonal flu deaths from recent flu seasons in the United States at a low of 12,000 (2011-2012) to an estimated high of 61,000 (2017-2018). Add that on top of the COVID-19 overload, and spread of the flu virus could have a compounding negative effect on the U.S. health care system.

While the flu vaccine does not offer any protection against COVID-19, that doesn’t make getting the vaccine any less essential. Like COVID-19, the influenza virus attacks the lungs, and it is possible to contract both the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously, which could complicate recovery and increase the risk of hospitalization and possibly even death for any individual unfortunate enough to contract both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

Aside from the community and personal health benefits, getting a flu shot is also a smart financial decision. Consider the cost of all of the medicine and related treatments you will be buying if you do get the flu, the lost income from work if you are paid hourly wages, or the lost personal days that could have been banked for future time off of work. And all of that is on top of the potentially astronomical costs of doctors visits and/or hospitalizations.

cheapest flu shots

Where to Get a Free Flu Shot

For starters, there are a number of ways that you may be able to get a free flu shot:

  1. Your Employer: My previous employer offered free flu shots to all employees and their families, as the flu has been estimated to cost $34 billion in lost productivity for businesses, per year. Check with your employer to see if they will be offering free flu shots this year and tout the potential cost savings for them to do so, if they are not.
  2. Your Physician through your Health Insurance: Indirectly, through your employer or if you have a public health insurance exchange, your health insurance is now required to pay for your flu shot without any co-payment due to Affordable Care Act coverage rules (when given by an in-network provider). If you are over age 65, Medicare Part B covers the cost of flu shots. And most state Medicaid agencies cover the cost of flu shots for Medicaid participants as well.
  3. Your County Health Department: Many county health departments offer free flu shots to children and the elderly. However, increasingly they are offering this service to everyone. The only downside is the potential for long waiting lines. Check out your county or cities website for more information.
  4. Your Library: This one is surprising, but a number of libraries offer free flu shots. Check with yours.
  5. Your School, College, or University: Many educational institutions now offer free flu shots to their students. Check to confirm.
  6. The VA: Veterans who are eligible for VA health care can get a free flu shot at any VA facility.

free flu shots




The Cheapest Flu Shot Retailers

If you don’t have health insurance, employer, health department, or other source that offers free flu shots, there are a number of retailers offering discounted or cheap flu shots for the 2020-2021 flu season. And if you do have health insurance that covers flu shots (most do), it might even be more convenient to get a free flu shot at one of these locations than going to your doctor. Most offer online scheduling.

Retailers and pharmacies usually do not offer their flu shot prices online, but thankfully I have a phone and made a few calls. Here are the flu shot prices that I found (note that prices and availability may vary by location and insurance co-pays may apply):

Costco

Costco flu shot

  • Costco flu shot price: $19.99 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $46.50
  • Nasal Mist spray flu vaccine price: $24.99. Costco is the only major retailer that I was able to find offering the FluMist nasal spray flu vaccine at the moment.
  • Discounts/Promotions: not available, but Costco is the cheapest flu shot retailer on this list.
  • How to get a Costco flu shot: walk-ins are welcome, or you can schedule an appointment online for a flu shot at Costco. Flu shots are one of the services you can get from Costco without a membership.

Sam’s Club

Sam's Club flu shot

CVS

CVS flu shot

  • CVS flu shot price: $45 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $75
  • Discounts/Promotions: you can get a $5 off $20 coupon for a subsequent purchase.
  • How to get a CVS flu shot: walk-ins are welcome, or you can schedule an appointment online for a flu shot at CVS.

Target

Target flu shot

  • Target flu shot price: $45 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $75
  • Discounts/Promotions: $5 Target gift card if you get a flu shot at a Target CVS pharmacy.
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins are welcome, or you can schedule an appointment online for a flu shot at Target.

Walgreen’s

Walgreens flu shot

  • Walgreen’s flu shot price: $40.99 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $79
  • Discounts/Promotions: Walgreen’s is running a “$5 off $20 coupon” for a subsequent purchase, with a flu shot.
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins are welcome, or you can schedule an appointment online for a flu shot at Walgreen’s.

Rite Aid

Rite Aid flu shot

  • Rite Aid flu shot price: $35 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $78
  • Discounts/Promotions: not available
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins only – there is no way to schedule an appointment for a flu shot at Rite Aid.

Walmart

Walmart flu shot

  • Walmart flu shot price: $35 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $74.15
  • Discounts/Promotions: not available
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins only – there is no way to schedule an appointment for a flu shot at Walmart.

Kroger

Kroger flu shot

  • Kroger flu shot price: $40 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $70
  • Discounts/Promotions: not available
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins are welcome, or you can schedule an appointment online for a flu shot at Kroger.

Safeway:

Safeway flu shot

  • Safeway flu shot price: $31.50 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $59.50
  • Discounts/Promotions: Safeway occasionally runs a 10% off groceries on your next visit promotion, with a flu shot, which could be a lucrative promotion!
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins only – there is no way to schedule an appointment prior for a flu shot at Safeway.

Meijer

Meijer flu shot

  • Meijer flu shot price: $37.99 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $79.99
  • Discounts/Promotions: not available
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins only – there is no way to schedule an appointment prior for a flu shot at Meijer.

Publix

Publix flu shot

  • Publix flu shot price: $48 (standard quadrivalent vaccine)
  • High-dose (age 65+) flu shot price: $84
  • Discounts/Promotions: Publix occasionally runs a $10 gift card promotion, with a flu shot.
  • How to get a flu shot: walk-ins are welcome, or you can schedule an appointment through the Publix app.

Notes On the Above List:

  • Quadrivalent is designed to protect against four different flu strain viruses; two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses and is now the standard offered everywhere.
  • The trivalent option is not being carried yet by any retailer this year.
  • In prior years, the CDC found that the nasal mist spray option was not as effective compared to the flu shot and it was pulled from the market. However, it is being offered again, in limited quantities, with disclaimers that certain populations should not use it.
  • Even though I have listed the 65+ high dose prices here, everyone in this age group is eligible for free flu shots if they are enrolled in Medicare, Part B.

If none of these retailers have locations by you, check out the CDC’s Flu.gov flu shot vaccine locator website, which will provide a map of providers near you that offer flu shots.

Flu Shot Effectiveness Rate & Time Before it Takes Effect

I have often wondered how long it takes for a flu shot to take effect. According to the CDC, it generally takes about 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to protect you from catching the flu virus.

The flu shot effectiveness rate is widely disputed. There are many variables – age, severity of a virus in a given season, new strains, unreported cases, and even effectiveness by manufacturer – that make it hard to nail down an effectiveness rate. I’ve seen effectiveness rates reported as anywhere from 40% to 90%.

Regardless of effectiveness rate, there is no risk in getting the flu from a flu shot, so sign me up. It is recommended that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu shot. And it is recommended that children between 6 months and 8 years of age get 2 shots per season.

Cheap or Free Flu Shot Discussion:

  • Are you getting a flu shot this year? Why or why not?
  • Did I miss any locations for cheap flu shots or ways to get a free flu shot? Share in the comments!

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