Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious sickness that affects the respiratory system—the nose, throat, and lungs—caused by influenza viruses. It’s different from a cold, and often comes along with fever, body aches, and fatigue. It spreads when tiny droplets from an infected person’s mouth or nose end up in the nose or mouth of a non-infected person, frequently after a sneeze, cough, or simply while talking enthusiastically. You can get the flu any time of year, but it’s most common during peak flu season: between December and February.
On average, 8% of the population in the United States gets the virus during flu season, between 140,000 and 960,000 people are hospitalized for complications from the flu, and between 12,000 to 79,000 die from the flu each year according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The good news? You can avoid illness by getting a flu vaccine, or “flu shot” every year. It’s the most effective way to prevent the flu, according to the CDC. And with these tips, it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are many ways to get discounted or free flu shots in your community.
What is the flu shot?
The flu shot is a seasonal flu vaccine that triggers your body to produce antibodies against certain strains of the flu virus that are predicted to be most common that particular flu season. Trivalent vaccines protect against three viruses. Quadrivalent vaccines protect against four viruses. Both are effective at protecting you against the flu—though it’s impossible to know exactly how effective. The vaccine is updated each year to match the viruses going around, but it’s not 100% foolproof.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine, though the type, dose, or method administration may vary based on age. It’s particularly important for people who are at high risk for complications from the flu including:
- Adults age 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- People with a chronic condition, like:
- Heart disease
- Young children
- People with a weakened immune system
If you fall into one of those groups, don’t delay. The flu vaccination is affordable, ranging anywhere from free to over $50 depending on health insurance status, type of vaccine, and where you get it.
RELATED: Flu shot 101
How much is the flu shot without insurance?
The CDC recommends any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine without preference for one over the other, including injectable vaccines and nasal spray vaccines. Available brands include: Afluria, Fluad, Fluarix, Flublok, Flucelvax, FluLaval, FluMist, and Fluzone.
If you don’t have insurance, here’s how much you’ll pay with SingleCare for the Fluzone quadrivalent flu vaccine at popular pharmacies. And if it’s your first time using your SingleCare card, you can use a coupon for an additional $5 off the price.
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Where can I get a flu shot for free?
It’s best to get a flu shot before the end of October. Though it can still be beneficial if you forget until later in the season, you have a higher chance of being exposed before the shot can become effective. In other words, don’t wait too long! Check the list below, and go get one ASAP to avoid getting sick.
Pharmacies and drugstores
With so many drugstores to choose from, how do you know where to get a flu shot? Are they free at CVS? How much do they cost at Walgreens? Does Walmart offer them? If you’re looking for a vaccine, you’ve probably asked all of these questions.
Lots of local pharmacies—even within grocery or big box stores—offer free flu shots for people with insurance. Some even add an additional incentive, such as a store coupon with your immunization.
CVS (and CVS within Target stores)
CVS Pharmacy offers no-cost flu shots with most insurance, along with a $5 coupon to use on qualifying purchases in the store to encourage patrons to get vaccinated.
With certain insurance plans, flu immunizations are covered with $0 copay.
Rite Aid doesn’t require an appointment, and doesn’t charge for the vaccine if they accept your insurance.
With any accepted insurance plan, or VA-enrollment, flu shots are no cost to you at Walgreens.
Walmart pharmacies offer free flu vaccines with participating insurance plans.
If your local pharmacy isn’t listed, don’t worry. Many others offer similar benefits, just ask your pharmacist. And don’t forget about the pharmacies within major grocery store chains.
If you have insurance—including Medicare and Medicaid—the flu shot is often completely covered with no out-of-pocket cost if your primary care doctor is in network. Some offices have open vaccination hours at the beginning or end of the business day with no extra charge. At other health care providers, you will have to schedule an appointment and—depending on your coverage—pay a copay for the visit. Check with your insurance and doctor’s office to see where you fall. When you call, make sure they have the current year’s flu vaccine, in the form and dose you need, in stock.
Urgent care centers
It can be hard to make it to the doctor’s office during normal business hours. If you can’t make it between 9 and 5, urgent care clinics offer extended hours. And many have walk-in slots for free flu shots, if you have insurance. Just like your doctor’s office, call ahead to make sure you won’t run into any surprise fees.
Every year, workers across the U.S. miss approximately 17 million workdays from the flu, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It’s common for corporate offices to host free vaccine days to keep their employees from getting sick, and offset some of the $7 billion in estimated costs from paid time off and lost productivity. Ask your human resources department to see what’s available.
Local government agencies
City or county health departments typically offer free flu shots for higher risk populations, like young children or senior citizens, either in the form of vouchers for uninsured or via free flu shot clinics that accept insurance. Though some have extended coverage to all residents to protect public health. Check your local county’s website for details.
A national survey found that less than half of college students get the flu vaccine, and the small living spaces and shared bathrooms in dorms put them at risk for catching it easily. College health centers commonly offer the vaccine to (often broke) students for free to stave off a campus epidemic.
How do I find a free flu shot near me?
You can use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder (vaccinefinder.org) to locate a pharmacy, health care provider, health department, or clinic offering the flu shot near you.
How to get a discount on your flu shot
Make sure to compare prices at singlecare.com before choosing where to get your flu shot. You can find the least expensive location near you, and coupons to save on flu shots, flu medications, and other prescriptions you need to get you through cold and flu season in one piece.