How to Get a Flu Shot for Free, With or Without Insurance In The U.S.

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How to Get a Flu Shot for Free, With or Without Insurance In The U.S.
Photo: SELF/AAP

Flu season is on its way, and getting your flu shot this year is more important than ever. Ideally you’ll snag one before the end of October, although anytime is better than never. So we’ve got you covered with the cheapest and easiest ways to get vaccinated — with or without insurance — plus some bonuses for extra enticement.

Flu shots are usually free

First, if you have insurance, is the cost of the flu shot covered? The answer is almost always yes. The Affordable Care Act requires that insurers cover recommended vaccines, with no copay and without counting against your deductible.

If you don’t have insurance, or possibly if you have a very old grandfathered plan, you may end up needing to pay. The other thing to be wary of is the office visit cost, which may not be covered. Fortunately, pharmacy flu shots are covered under most plans.

There are other options, too: Many big employers — from large corporations to universities — offer free flu shots. After all, herd immunity is in their best interest, too. Before you lay out for a pharmacy shot or schlep over to your doctor, check to see if free flu shots will be coming to your workplace soon.

Your county health department may also offer free flu shots. Most of these programs were originally aimed at seniors, for whom the flu is especially dangerous, but some have expanded to healthy adults, too, so it’s definitely worth looking into.

A Visualisation Of How Herd Immunity Works, And Why Vaccines Are Important

By breaking the chain of a disease’s transmission, herd immunity protects the most vulnerable among us, including newborns and sick people who can’t receive vaccines. But in order for it to work, a certain percentage of people in a community must be vaccinated.

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Pharmacies offer flu shot deals

That said, pharmacies are some of the easiest and most ubiquitous places to get a flu shot, though some won’t vaccinate children — so you may want to call ahead and ask. Pharmacy flu shots are typically covered by insurance, and they’re also typically the cheapest option if you find it either necessary or more convenient to pay for it yourself.

If you’re paying out of pocket, the cheapest pharmacy flu shots we’ve found are still at Costco, where the quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four strains of flu, costs $US19.99 ($28). No bulk discount, har har, but you can get the shot without a Costco membership — let the door attendant know you’re there for the pharmacy and they should let you right in.

Otherwise, a flu shot typically costs $US30 ($43)-40 out of pocket; GoodRx has a chart of this year’s prices at popular pharmacy chains. If you’re over 65, a high dose (sometimes called “senior dose”) flu shot may give you better protection, but those tend to cost more, between $US50 ($71)-70.

Do You Need a High-Dose Flu Shot?

The flu vaccine is more important than ever this year, so if you’re encountering the different versions for the first time, some of them may be confusing. Yes, there is a high-dose flu vaccine, and it’s one of the versions recommended for people over 65.

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Many pharmacies offer bonus discounts to go along with your flu shot. Some of these are restricted to vaccines covered by commercial (non-government) insurance plans.

  • Target’s in-store pharmacies are run by CVS, and offer a $US5 ($7) Target coupon when you get your shot there.
  • CVS offers a $US5 ($7)-off-$US20 ($29) coupon when you get your flu shot.
  • Safeway and other stores with an Albertsons pharmacy offer 10% off your next grocery order when you get a flu vaccine.
  • Publix offers a $US10 ($14) gift card with your flu shot.
  • Walgreens doesn’t offer discounts, but they do have the Give-a-Shot, Get-a-Shot program, where your vaccine purchase helps fund vaccinations for children in need around the world. They also offer free shots to veterans enrolled in VA services if you fill out this form.

And before you get going in the comments with “I’ve never had the flu, so why should I get the flu shot?” or “Eh, the flu’s not so bad — just a few days home from work!” or “I’m already wearing a mask!” or any other anti-vaccine nonsense, remember that healthy people who can get the vaccine absolutely should, because your immunity protects the people around you who can’t get the vaccine, and for whom the flu could be deadly.

This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated in September 2020 with more recent information.

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