Did you know that last year the flu season started four weeks earlier than most medical professionals expected? I guess it’s a good thing that, by chance, I’d gotten my flu shot in September. Even better, I didn’t get the flu last year.
According to Target’s associate medical director, Kevin Ronneberg, MD, “Influenza usually occurs from November until April, with activity peaking between late December and early March.” However, because the vaccine takes approximately two weeks to provide protection, Dr. Ronneberg suggests getting your flu shot as early as possible, once it is available.
Turns out many big box stores, pharmacy chains, and even warehouse clubs have had flu vaccines in stock since late August. My local supermarket has been promoting flu shots for weeks.
If you’re planning to get a flu shot for the 2013-2014 flu season and don’t want to have to wait for an appointment at the doctor, here are some places where you can go for free and cheap flu shots.
1. Local Health Departments
Chances are if you reach out to your county or state health department, you’ll discover that at some point this fall, it will offer a free or low-cost flu shot clinic. For example, the Montgomery County Department of Health in Maryland has already posted its schedule for free flu shots. The State of Hawaii will begin flu clinics in schools statewide in October. Marc Kruskol, a publicist in Los Angeles, gets a free flu shot each year by searching the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health website to find out when and where clinics will be held.
2. Medical Centers and Organizations
The Visiting Nurses Associations of America will team up with Clorox again this year for its “Say ‘Boo!’ to the Flu” program that brings discounted or free flu vaccinations (varies by location) to schools and community centers in cities nationwide throughout October. To turn something scary (getting a shot) into something fun, families receive festive freebies at the vaccination events, including tote bags and stickers.
If you are 65 or older, you may want to check out the National Council on Aging; it has a coast-to-coast calendar of flu shot events.
At some medical establishments, you don’t even have to get out of your car to get a flu shot. For example, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona, California, will hold a drive-thru flu clinic in October with free flu shots for residents age 60 and over, and for adults of all ages with a chronic illness. Nova Urgent Care locations in Virginia will also offer a drive-thru flu shot event in September. Flu shots cost $20.
Many grocery stores with pharmacies offer flu shots, and some will reward you for doing so. For example, when you get a flu shot at Weis Markets (a chain in the mid-Atlantic), and have a Weis Preferred Shoppers Club Card, you’ll get a coupon to save 10 cents per gallon of gas when you fill up at Weis Gas N’ Go locations.
Safeway stores—including Vons and Dominick’s, all part of the Safeway family—are handing out 10 percent off shopping passes to customers who get a flu shot there. Safeway stores do take many insurance plans, so your flu shot could be free.
CVS accepts most insurance plans, meaning that if yours covers flu shots, you won’t pay a thing for your vaccine. Afterwards, you’ll receive a 20-percent-off shopping pass to save on non-pharmacy purchases at CVS totaling up to $100. You do need to have a CVS Extra Care card to get the pass. Some states are exempt from this promotion.
Sam’s Club locations with pharmacies open their doors to anyone, not just members, for flu shots, and Sam’s Club accepts insurance. If you don’t have insurance, flu shot prices will vary by location, so check first.
Target also accepts insurance, possibly making your flu shot free. And if you already fill all your prescriptions at Target, you might want to join Target’s Pharmacy Rewards program; you’ll receive a five-percent-off shopping pass after filling five eligible prescriptions, and your flu shot and other vaccinations count towards this total.
Given last year’s early start to the flu season, I plan to get my flu shot in September again this year—but on purpose. Will you do the same?
Leah Ingram is the author of 14 books, including two on frugal living: Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier on Less (Adams Media, 2010) and Toss, Keep, Sell: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Getting Organized and Making Money from Your Stuff (Adams Media, 2010). She is also the founder of the popular frugal-living blog called Suddenly Frugal. Right now if you subscribe to Suddenly Frugal, Leah will send you an exclusive freebie. Each week here on Parade.com she’ll be covering different money-saving ideas as well as profiling frugal celebrities. If you have an idea, let her know. In the meantime, follow her on Twitter @suddenlyfrugal and “Like” Suddenly Frugal on Facebook.