The flu is bad news. Like really bad news.
And the 2019-2020 flu season is in full swing (though everyone's attention appears to be on the novel coronavirus). The CDC just published one of its first flu maps (already widespread in Maryland!):
The typical flu season starts in October but doesn't get going until December with a massive peak in February. It typically ends in late-March, early-April.
The flu shot is not fun but neither is the flu – please get your shot. You can find it for super cheap, if not FREE! While only roughly 50% of the population will go and get their flu shot, it is not from lack of availability. We have scoured the Internet looking for all the cheap and free places you can get your flu shot this season.
Why You Should Get a Flu Shot
You may have heard that a flu shot is only 30% effective. It's because the flu vaccine is designed to target the most likely strains and sometimes nature has a way of throwing us a curveball. The effectiveness is that low because the vaccine targets 3-4 flu strains, which means others are likely to get through the protections.
This is made worse if people don't get a flu shot because when they do get sick, the strain can mutate. This is why everyone needs to get a flu shot, so the strain doesn't mutate to a point that someone vaccinated will become infected.
If you are a bit squeamish about needles, consider the financial impact of getting the flu. If you're earning minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) and you get sick with the flu, missing two days of work is $116 before taxes. This is on top of a doctor's visit, a co-pay (or worse), and any prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines to help ease your symptoms (check Blink Health if it's a prescription to see if you can get a discount). It's going to be a pricey way to skip a needle.
You should do this immediately too because it takes two weeks for the flu shot to take full effect. When you get a shot, your body needs time to develop the antibodies and that takes about 14 days. The best time to get the shot is in October, the next best time is right now.
Where to Get Free or Cheap Flu Shots
We've collected a list of places you can go (along with costs) for getting your shot.
Most places will have a regular shot. Some, at a higher cost, will offer a higher dose shot (Fluzone High-Dose) or a nasal spray (Flumist Quadrivalent).
National or Regional Locations to find a low cost or free clinic to receive the flu vaccine:
- Costco Pharmacy Locations – No cost on most insurance plans (they can only bill prescription plans, they can't bill a medical plan) or $19.99. Costco is the cheapest option for those without insurance and are paying out of pocket (you do not need a membership to go to the pharmacy, one of our most important Costco hacks).
- Walmart – Vaccinations available at most locations, recommended minimum age is 8. Cost is free with most insurance coverage. If you don't have insurance, the cost for vaccination is $25.
- Walgreens – Vaccinations available at most locations, can schedule an appointment online. Recommended age minimum is 7. The price of the flu shot is $31.99 (except in DE $35.99 and MN $34.99).
- CVS Minute Clinic and Pharmacy Locations – The price for the flu shot if you do not have health insurance is $41.
- Safeway – You can walk in or schedule an appointment
- RiteAid – With most insurance plans the vaccine will be at no cost.
- Target – Target's in-store pharmacies are run by CVS (hence the CVS information page) and they will give you a $5 target coupon if you get a no-cost flu shot.
Some places, like Target, will offer you discounts if you get a shot. Check the ongoing deals to see which one is best for you.
If these aren't an option for you, there are other places you can find free or cheap flu shots.
Check with your local health department to see if there are other locations where you can get a low cost or free flu vaccine. They often maintain a list of locations and these shots may be free for children and the elderly. The only downside is that you may have to wait a while because it is free or low cost.
Otherwise, some employers offer free or low-cost flu shots to employees and their families. Employers know that providing free flu shots to their employees and families is cheaper than having employees calling in sick to care for their loved ones or being sick themselves. When I was working at Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton, they often had free flu shots for employees. If you missed the scheduled times, you could always visit the health office to get a shot off-schedule.
Lastly, if you're a student or faculty, your college or university health department may offer a shot for a free or low cost. Schools are often places where transmitting the flu bug can be difficult to control so they like to get ahead of it.
How to Help Prevent the Flu
The shot is best but there are other practices you can introduce into your life to help reduce the incidence of the flu:
- Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer, they will reduce the likelihood you get the germs on your hands.
- Consider using a medical mask, the flu is transmitted by coughing and this can prevent some of those instances.
- Wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes to kill any lingering virus.
- Cover your cough – if you have the flu, this will reduce the chance you spread it to loved ones. Cough into your elbow, rather than your hands.
- Get plenty of rest, eat well, and stay hydrated.
But most importantly, get your flu shot before the flu gets you!