Quick question: Have you gotten your flu shot yet? If your answer is "yes," good for you; carry on. If your answer is "no," what are you waiting for?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age six months and older (with just a few exceptions) should get a flu shot before the end of October. That's because flu activity for the season typically begins in October and starts to peak in December—and it takes several weeks to develop full immunity from the shot.
141007_ff_flushotsfree.jpg , Vanessa Raabe, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health, previously told Health—which means the flu shot you got last year most definitely won't give you any protection for this year's flu season. Plus, the flu vaccine changes from year to year as scientists try to predict which strains of the virus will be dominant. So last year's shot wouldn't protect you as well as this year's anyway.
While you can technically still get the flu shot well into flu season (like, if you forgot about it until January), it's still wise to get it ASAP—especially when, for most people, it takes less than a minute of your time, and can be totally free. That's right: With most health insurance, a flu vaccine costs exactly zero bucks.
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And if you don't have health insurance, there are still ways to get the flu shot for free. If worse comes to worse and you have to pay out of pocket, the vaccine generally costs anywhere from $20 to about $85, depending on where you go and what kind of vaccine you get. The flu shots made specifically for people age 65 and over, for instance, are more expensive (though Medicare Part B covers the senior vaccines in full).
Check with places where you're enrolled in some kind of loyalty program to see whether you might be eligible for a discount. Walgreens, for example, gives 20% off the retail price of flu shots to those enrolled in their Prescription Savings Club.
Also worth noting: Since health care spaces are operating a little differently this year (you know, because we're still in the middle of a pandemic) you might be able to get a flu shot from the comfort of your own car. Some places are offering drive-through flu shots, including some community clinics, major hospital networks, and even grocery chains.
To help you out right this instant, we rounded up all the places where you can get a free flu shot with—and even without—insurance. While many places welcome walk-ins, it's smart to go online or call first to see if you need an appointment.
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Your primary-care doctor
If you're enrolled in a health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or have almost any private plan, your provider will cover the cost of the flu shot. That's right, no copayment for your appointment; just protection from the flu—whether you've hit your yearly deductible yet or not.
Urgent care centers
Can't make it to your regular doctor because of work or personal commitments? Check with local urgent care centers. Many are open after hours and on weekends, and they'll provide flu shots free if you have insurance. Call them up ahead of time to make sure the shots are available at the center you choose.
Many companies offer free flu shots on site, often without insurance, or provide vouchers you can take to local pharmacies. If you haven't heard anything about this from your employer, check in with HR—they'll tell you what's up.
Some research shows that college students are particularly likely to skip out on getting vaccinated. A 2017 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found fewer than half typically get the flu shot. If you're still in school, head to your campus health center, where you can often score the flu shot—gratis.
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Many independent pharmacies and almost all large national pharmacy chains like Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid offer no-cost flu shots for people with most health insurance plans. When you get a flu shot at CVS, you also get a coupon good for $5 off a $20-or-more purchase at the store. (At the CVS pharmacies inside Target stores, you'll get a $5 coupon that you can apply toward a purchase of $20 or more at Target.)
Supermarkets and big box stores
Most of the country's large grocery store chains, including Stop & Shop, Kroger, and Safeway, have pharmacies on the premises that offer free flu shots with most health insurance plans. Even stores without pharmacies may sponsor pop-up flu shot clinics on site. You can also grab a flu shot when you're making your weekly bulk-grocery run to Sam's Club or Costco.
Free shots without insurance
According to GoodRx, many county health departments offer free flu shots during flu season—with or without insurance. Contact your county's health department to see if you can benefit from this service. Even if you don't have health insurance (as about 10% of Americans under age 64 don't, per the Kaiser Family Foundation), you may be able to get the jab without cost through local churches and synagogues, free clinics, and community centers.
"Last flu season, the CDC reported record numbers of people vaccinated against the flu, and we experienced a near non-existent flu season," Kevin Ban, MD, chief medical officer at Walgreens, told Health. "This shows that the flu shots, combined with other preventive measures, remain the best way to fight off flu."
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