How Much Does a Flu Shot Cost?

by Linsey Knerl on 8 September 2009 17 comments
Photo: Alex Lee

When it comes time for you to think about getting your seasonal flu shot, there are a few ways to go about getting one – each one with a different price tag. Before you run out and schedule that doctor’s appointment, check out the many ways to snag a vaccine, for less than you’d expect.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor

This is the way we all used to get vaccinations as kids. Whether you worked it into your back-to-school physical, or just made a special visit for all your vaccines at one time during another month, flu shots could be given along with your run-of-the-mill tetanus and MMR shots. Since most adults are caught up on these other shots, and possibly don’t need to be seen for anything else, scheduling a traditional appointment can be the most costly way to get a flu shot (in fact, many facilities won’t even allow you to do this). In addition to your office visit fee (which can range from $15-$120, depending on whether you have insurance), you’ll pay between $15 and $50 for a flu shot.Total cost: $30-$170 per shot.

Visit your local pharmacy

Perhaps the most popular way to get a flu shot without as much disruption to your day, pharmacies in both mom-and-pop and national chain stores are starting to offer flu shots on a walk-in basis. While the lines may be longer this year, due to the scare that H1N1 has caused, the procedures for obtaining a traditional flu shot (H1N1-specific shots are still on the horizon) are relatively painless, so to speak. To find out where you can get your shot, check your favorite pharmacy’s website. Walgreens, for example, is already offering their clinic from 10am – 4pm all 7 days of the week. (Note: Since these are walk-in offerings, many pharmacies will not honor insurance – although some have been known to apply the cost against certain types of Medicare.) Total Cost: $25 – 40 per shot.

Stop by a senior center

Since the elderly have traditionally been included in the high-risk group encouraged by doctors to get the shot each year, it’s only common sense to make the shot available where they are likely to hang out. Shots given at these privately-run recreational facilities are usually competitively priced and are not limited to just those 55 and above. Call you local center or check the paper for news on when you can get yours. Total Cost: $15 – 30 per shot 

Free or low-cost clinics

Your local health and human services office may be your best bet to find cheap shots, if you are not covered by insurance or have many people in your family needing the vaccine. Check your state’s HHS website to get details on community action programs in your area that will be holding shot clinics in the next few months. While usually no one is turned down (even those with higher incomes), a suggested donation is usually appreciated if you can afford it. Total cost: Free - $20 per shot.

****Thanks to commenter Dawn below, who reminded us that your employer will often have a low-cost or free flu shot program for employees.  Not employed?  Alyssa at KingdomFirst Mom let us know that CVS will be giving FREE shots to the unemployed.  Details to come!

With all the buzz surrounding the H1N1 virus, there have been talks of enlisting additional health professionals to be on call to administer vaccines if necessary. While I wouldn’t rush out to your dentist for that flu shot just yet, it may be another option in the months to come.

Additional reading:

H1N1 Shots to be Given in Order of Risk (Kearney Hub)

Pharmacies Start Flu Shot Campaigns (Las Vegas Fox 5 News)

Flu Shot Isn’t for H1N1 (LA Times)

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Guest's picture
Kevin

You guys have to PAY for flu shots??

Guest's picture
Amy K.

I didn't see a Flu Clinic listing at my state's Health & Human Services website, but I do know that the local chapter of the Medical Reserve Corps is doing flu clinics. The Town Board of Health is offering the shots free of charge for residents, and the Medical Reserve Corps is doing the actual dispensing.

Just thought I'd toss it out there as another place to check. I got my 2007 vaccine through a MRC Emergency Dispensing drill, and while they did take down my insurance info I had no copay and never heard a peep from my insurance. I don't think the MRC even had facilities to accept a donation.

Guest's picture
dawn

I'm surprised you overlooked one big category...getting a free flu shot from your employer. Mine can't be the only one.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Doh! That's a big one, Dawn.  Thanks for bringing that up.  I've been self-employed for so long, that I often don't consider it, and when I WAS employed, they usually had a special day at the local clinic that we could take advantage of.  It wasn't through my work, per se.

I'd love to hear pricing info on employer-based flu shot programs!  Anyone care to share?

Linsey

 

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Guest

The company I work for gives flu shots. They set up clinics for employees or anyone can come in for a quick appointment. Price ranges depending on the area you are in, but it might be between $22-30 a shot, unless you want preservative free or FluMist the nasal spray (which they also have but it is usually more expensive) try Passport Health if you want to see if they have an office near you.

Guest's picture

Our company sponsors free flu shots every year for the past 10 years. We've never had to pay. Flu shots are part of our tax expenditure since we pay so much! Go USA!

Maggie Wells's picture

We actually have a drive thru clinic in October....just stick your driver's arm out the window. Over in two seconds. That's it. No cost. Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture
Guest

Flu shots are dangerous -- what's to say that you're not going to get the flu? Or that they guessed the right strain for a particular year? Also, you could end up getting the flu from the shot. I know many people that this have happened to them. Do your research before you go putting things in your body... Isn't it strange that pharmaceuticals are the ones behind these flu shots and also the ones that create the medicines you take when you do get it?

Guest's picture
Guest

if you did your research you would know you can't get the flu from a flu shot. You are right they might not have picked the right strains for the year, but it won't hurt to get one just in case they did.

Guest's picture
GT0163C

My employeer gives us free flu shots every year. They set of specific days at various locations around the facility. Then, there's a later series of "make up" appointments for anyone who was unable to get a shot during the first round (usually people on vacation or business travel). They figure that it's a small price to pay to vaccinate the entire work force (or as many as will take it, it's voluntary) rather than have to pay for sick time when the flu runs rampant through cubeville because someone refused to go home when they weren't feeling well.

Guest's picture
Guest

As a condition of receiving money from the federal government, every town is required to have a pandemic flu response plan. Call your towns health agent (small towns may only have a part-time agent) and ask when your town will be offering flu shots. Most larger towns use the annual regular fall flu clinics to test their pandemic disaster plans and activate all emergency response personnel (public health nurses, police, fire, etc.) as well as volunteers such as CERT, Red Cross, and the Medical Reserve Corps. They offer the shots at their cost to procure the vaccine from the manufacturer (usually $10-$15).

We test our "drive thru" pandemic flu clinic every fall to vaccinate as many people as possible as cheaply as possible. It's really neat ... you don't even have to get out of your car or risk getting exposed to sick people. Every town offers clinics, though these range from full blown exercises such as ours to small walk-in clinics offered for a few hours at the town health agents office.

If you want to ensure you'll always be near the front of the line for potential pandemic flu vaccines, get trained as a CERT, Red Cross, or Medical Reserve Corps volunteer to help out at these clinics and your family will move to the front of the line to get vaccinated if a REAL killer pandemic moves through your region. You -don't- have to be a medical professional to volunteer ... they need just as many people to direct traffic, help people fill out forms, and monitor vaccinees after receiving their shots to make sure there are no reactions as they need nurses to jab people in the arm.

Lynn Truong's picture

Ha! I love the drive through flu shot idea. Stop. Stick your arm out. Drive away. Nice.

Guest's picture
Mary

Be aware that Walgreens will not give shots to everyone. I'm 8 months pregnant and they turned me away for "liability" reasons. It makes perfect sense - let's turn away the people who are at greatest risk!

Guest's picture
Guest

Our town drive-thru flu clinic isn't quite "stick your arm out and drive away," but it's pretty efficient. It's also massively cool as it's a full-blown pandemic flu disaster drill "dress rehearsal" and every agency in the area (from FEMA and the National Guard all the way down to the Boy Scouts) who might be asked to help out in the real deal shows up to practice their skills.

First we triage them at the entrance to the parking lot by asking them the usual flu shot questions (allergic to eggs, sick now, etc.) and sending the high risk ones (like the poor pregnant lady who got turned away at Walgreens) to park and walk inside (though they would NOT turn you down!). The rest get directed into the double-barreled queue to get their shot. Police officers direct the traffic from the street into the parking lot, then trained CERT and Citizens Police Academy volunteers perform triage and traffic control under the direction of a trained first responder/paramedic.

People with potential medical complications or concerns are directed to park and go inside. If your dog is in the car with you, we ask you to drop them off at home first or park the car and walk inside due to concerns about the person jabbing "mommy and daddy" getting bitten. The Boy Scouts help direct people who have to park (and little old ladies with walkers) inside, where it looks very much like a traditional flu clinic with everybody from the Red Cross to student nurses from the local community college doing the traditional flu shot things. But the real action is outside!

Out in the parking lot is everything from the usual local/county medical supply vans to military tents and satellite dishes set up to provide communications support. I'm part of civilian ARES (amateur radio emergency service) so we're cross-training with the military (we have a small base in our town) to help the Incident Commander (guy running the show) communicate with every disparate agency helping out that day (police, fire, Red Cross, military, medical, etc.) and also state/federal FEMA officials to get more supplies. Our town Health Agent is usually floating between the inside and outside clinics to monitor progress. We expect in a -REAL- pandemic the majority of our local military personnel will be redeployed to the cities, but a shadow crew of National Guardsmen who also work out of that base with some of the military's equipment will stay to help, so they're training volunteer ARES radio operators how to work with them. Lots of cool toys ... but I digress :-)

The second drive-thru station gives you the forms to fill out (name, date of birth, etc) an collect your $10 for the shot. They're able to process medicare/medicaid reimbursement forms right now, but not private insurance. My private insurance will pay the $10 for the flu shot, but not the $15 copay for me to go to a private doctor, so I just get mine done at the clinic each year. They also tell you to roll up your sleeves here. This station is usually staffed by non-medical Red Cross volunteers.

The third station gives you your shot. You just drive under a canopy, stick out your arm, get jabbed, and move onto the next station. This station is usually manned by a variety of trained medical personnel such as Medical Reserve Corps or military medics.

The fourth station is the reaction waiting area. You're directed to park in a parking lot for 10 minutes where volunteers trained to recognize the signs of reaction patrol along with an ambulance from the Fire Department in case somebody does have a reaction. Civilian Air Patrol handles the bulk of this duty. At 10 minutes, they ask you how you feel, then direct you how to get out of the parking lot and on your merry way.

All told, unless you've got a medical complication necessitating you go inside, we've been able to easily process 1,200 vaccinees in a few hours with an average in and out time of 20 minutes and anticipate we could easily quadruple that number in that same timeframe and get all 27,000 people in town vaccinated by going around the clock or over a period of 3-4 days. People really love it because it's so convenient and they don't even have to get out of their car. We've become a national model for pandemic flu response because it avoids having sick people who have the flu mingling with healthy vaccinees and healthy emergency response workers.

Guest's picture
Judith

Our county public health department gives all kinds of innoculations, from the seasonal flu shot to the new H1N1, tetanus, pneumonia, etc. the cost for the seasonal shot is just $20, as opposed to the $37- $45 charged by local pharmacies.

Guest's picture
neverland~

swine flu comes back and we should take care of ourselves, go frequently to see a doctor, do exercise everyday, wash our hands before meals,ect. nothing is more important than your health.[img]http://www.photosnag.com/img/4713/n09x0302vnsn/clear.gif[/img]

Guest's picture
Guest

I work for a temp agency, which placed me with the department of revenue, making minimum wage. The department of revenue offered free flu shots, but only for the permanent workers. I asked how much it would cost for us temps and it was outrageous. With me only making minimum wage, there's no way I could afford it. I don't yet have health insurance. Very frustrating!