We’re in the thick of autumn, with leaves falling and pumpkin everything filling store shelves. We have lots to do this time of year, but there’s one task that deserves the top spot on everyone’s to-do list: getting flu shots before flu season arrives. What may make the task more palatable for you is getting your flu shots for free!
While experts advise getting vaccinated before November arrives, in 2017 less than 39 percent of adults and children met that flu shot target date, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports. Flu shots are usually available and effective after October 31st, but it takes two full weeks for immunity to kick in no matter when you get your shot, so the longer you wait, the greater your risk of infection. Making it a priority now will allow you to reap the benefits of the vaccination sooner.
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive a flu shot. Among those who skip the shot and wind up sick, some experience relatively minor symptoms. However, it’s not worth the risk — influenza can be extremely dangerous. Typical symptoms include fever, cough, body aches and fatigue, but serious complications, like pneumonia, encephalitis, and multi-organ failure can result from the flu as well. Last year, considered a “high-severity” season, an estimated 80,000 adults (along with 181 children, most of them unvaccinated) died from flu-related complications. Many more — close to 900,000 — were hospitalized, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases reports.
High-risk groups like young children, the elderly, and people with underlying health issues are especially vulnerable to the flu and flu-related complications. The bottom line: Widespread vaccination can help stop the virus from spreading so it is less likely to infect members of these vulnerable populations. Scientists call this “herd immunity” or “community immunity”—protecting the masses to protect the weak.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get a flu shot these days. And if easy isn’t enough of an incentive, how does free sound? Flu vaccines are required to be covered by your health insurance without charging a co-payment or coinsurance. But, be sure to check with your insurance company to find out if you must go to a specific location to receive the vaccine. By simply showing proof of insurance, many clinics, pharmacies, and other establishments offer no-cost flu shots. We’ve put together a list of seven places to get your flu shot quickly:
- Local government agencies. County and city public health departments often schedule walk-in flu-shot clinics throughout the fall and winter. Check their websites for dates and times.
- Your employer. Many employers provide on-site flu-shot clinics for employees — sometimes even their family members — saving time (no missed work) and money (they’re free). If your employer doesn’t currently offer this perk, speak to your HR department about organizing it yourself. CVS conducts on-site clinics at businesses located within 75 miles of any CVS pharmacy, with no service fee to the company. For more information, visit https://m.cvs.com/immunizations/flu/clinics.
- Your pharmacy. CVS Pharmacies located within Target stores offer no-cost flu shots, and anyone who gets one will receive a $5 Target coupon. Stand-alone CVS stores offer coupons as well — $5 toward any purchase of at least $25. Walgreens has a similar program during flu season. Prefer another pharmacy? No worries...many others offer similar financial incentives. Just ask.
- Your doctor’s office. If you’re more comfortable getting the shot from your primary healthcare provider, this is definitely an option. You’ll probably need to schedule an appointment in advance, but any associated costs will be billed to your health insurance provider, including Medicare and Medicaid.
- Campus health centers. Most college and university health centers offer flu shots to students, faculty, and staff by appointment, and many offer walk-in clinics as well. Be sure to bring your ID and insurance card with you.
- On the road. Away from home but still want to get your flu shot ASAP? Visit www.vaccinefinder.org and enter your location’s zip code. A list of nearby flu shot providers will appear.
- VA Health Care System. Finally, veterans enrolled in the VA Health Care System can get a free shot at any Walgreens or Duane Reed location during flu season. (You must present your Veterans Health ID card and another form of photo ID to be eligible). As an added bonus, your VA electronic health record will be automatically updated to reflect your immunization.
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, OR.