Where to Get Cheap or Free Flu Shots

The 2016-2017 flu season is here and sick days are about to start piling up. Should you get a flu shot? There are many good reasons to…

On average, approximately 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.

And consider all of the medicine you will be buying if you do get the flu and lost income from work if you are not on salary or lost personal days that would have been your winter or summer vacation. Not to mention the potential cost of doctors visits or hospitalizations.

Oh yeah, there’s also that whole feeling like crap for days/weeks thing.

Despite all of that, only 47.1% of Americans got flu shots for the 2014-2015 flu season. That’s disappointingly low, considering the cost and widespread availability. It is a smart financial decision to get a flu shot, especially since the most you should ever have to pay is $30 or less. In most cases, flu shots are free!

Flu Shot Effectiveness Rate & Time Before it Takes Effect

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

Flu shot effectiveness rate is widely disputed. There are many variables – age, severity during that year, new strains, unreported cases, and even effectiveness by manufacturer – that make it hard to nail down an effectiveness rate. I’ve seen it 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.

Getting Free Flu Shots

There are a number of places to get a free flu shot:

1. Your Employer

My employer offered free flu shots to all employees this year. They also are offering free flu shots to family members, for the first time. Check with your employer to see if they will be offering free flu shots this year. If they are not, offer up this feedback – the economic impact of the flu in the U.S. is $87.1 billion per year, on average. According to the Center for Prevention and Health Services, the flu indirectly costs employers about $76.7 million, on average, in missed work and other indirect costs like healthcare.

2. Your Physician through your Health Insurance

Indirectly, through your employer or if you have a public health insurance exchange, your health insurance is required to pay for your flu shot without any co-sharing, due to Affordable Care Act coverage rules, when given by an in-network provider.

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.

The Cheapest Flu Shot Locations

If you don’t have health insurance, or an employer or county health department that offers free flu shots, there are a number of retailers offering fairly cheap flu shots for the 2016-2017 flu season. If you do have health insurance that covers flu shots, it might even be more convenient than going to your doctor. Most have online scheduling.

Most are not offering their flu shot prices online, but luckily I have a phone and made a few calls. Here is the pricing that I found (insurance acceptance varies and usual co-pay applies):

  • Costco Flu Shots: Costs $14.99 for standard trivalent. No quadrivalent (yet this year). Costco is the cheapest on this list if you don’t have insurance.
  • CVS Flu shots: No trivalent (yet this year). Costs $39.99 for quadrivalent. You get a 20% off one-time coupon valid on non-sale merchandise and non-pharmacy purchases up to $50 (maximum value $10).
  • Walgreen’s Flu Shots: Costs $31.99 for standard trivalent. $39.99 for quadrivalent.
  • Rite Aid Flu Shots: Costs $32.99 for standard trivalent. $39.99 for quadrivalent.
  • Meijer Flu Shots: Costs $27.99 for standard trivalent. $50 for quadrivalent.
  • Wal Mart Flu Shots: Costs $27.88 for standard trivalent. $32.54 for quadrivalent.
  • Sam’s Club Flu Shots: Costs $15 for standard trivalent. $25 for quadrivalent.
  • Kroger Flu Shots: Costs $30 for standard trivalent. $40 for quadrivalent.
  • Target Flu Shots: No trivalent (yet this year). $39.99 for quadrivalent. Note that CVS now runs Target pharmacies (prices are the same), but you do get a $5 Target gift card if you get a flu shot at a Target CVS pharmacy.

Note that trivalent flu shots are typically the standard offered and protect against 3 different strains of influenza, while quadrivalent is designed to protect against four different flu viruses; two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. The CDC found that the nasal mist option was not effective compared to the shot, so it is no longer being sold on the market.

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

Free or Cheap Flu Shot Discussion:

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

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