Along with the holidays and winter comes the flu season. As many as 20 percent of us stand a good chance of getting sick in the next couple of months. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about getting a flu shot. Your health insurance will probably cover the cost, and under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans are required to cover the flu vaccine and other preventive services at no cost.
So you can probably get a flu shot for free, but what’s the cost of not getting one? The CDC Foundation says flu illness costs the U.S. more than $87 billion annually, which includes an estimated $10.4 billion in direct medical expenses. There’s an estimated $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually due to the flu.
The time frame of flu season varies. Flu activity begins to increase in October and most commonly peaks January through March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Shipments of the flu vaccine start going out in summer and continue through fall until all of the vaccine has been distributed. The CDC says as of mid-August this year, it was projected by vaccine manufacturers that as many as 151 million to 159 million doses of influenza vaccine will be available for this year’s flu season. It is recommended that you get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available, typically in fall. However, it’s never too late to get a flu shot if the season is under way and there is still vaccines available.
Even though the flu vaccine is likely free for you, there are options outside of the doctor’s office about where you get the shot. It is available in pharmacies in big grocery stories, at drugstores, college health centers, and pop-up community events at libraries, churches or senior centers. Some employers will even offer flu shots on-site, as it is beneficial to them to keep employees healthy and working. Many free flu shot clinics take place in October so get them on your calendar now.
It is becoming more popular for store pharmacies to offer incentives so that you will get your flu shot with them. After all, every flu shot provided means one more shopper walking down your store’s aisles and hopefully buying a few additional items while they are there. Get your flu shot at Safeway and get a savings pass for 10 percent off your groceries (excluding New Jersey residents). CVS is offering a 20 percent off shopping pass valid on up to $100 of eligible merchandise. Flu shots at Target count toward their pharmacy rewards (get 5 percent off a day of shopping when you fill your first eligible prescription and 5 percent every time you fill five or more from there on out). Giant Food will give you a coupon book with over $30 in savings. As an added incentive, with each flu shot purchased at Giant Food, Unilever will donate money to Feeding America. Each flu shot provides 3 meals.
If you’re paying out-of-pocket, warehouse stores tend to offer the lowest prices. Get a flu shot at Costco’s pharmacy for $14.99. Plus, laws dictate that pharmacies must be open to the public so you don’t have to be a member to get vaccinations or prescriptions at warehouse stores.
If you are uninsured or underinsured, there is the Vaccines for Children (VCF) program. Under this program, doctors are provided with free vaccines for eligible children under 19 years of age.
Use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find a flu shot provider near you.
While it is recommended that everyone six months or older get the flu vaccine, there are exceptions. Flu.gov says you should talk to your health-care provider before getting a flu shot if you have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, have had a reaction to a flu vaccination in the past, currently have a moderate to severe illness with fever, or have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome.
This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.