With flu season about to rear its ugly head, now is the time to line up for your annual flu shot. Peak time for flu in the United States generally falls in January or February, but activity can erupt as early as October and it takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to develop the necessary antibodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get a dose of the vaccine. This can be costly for an entire family, especially without health insurance coverage.
To find the cheapest source for flu shots, Cheapism checked prices at six of thelargest pharmacy chains (based in 2014 revenue from prescriptions); warehouse clubs Costco and Sam’s Club, which are known for low prices and allow non-members to use their pharmacies; and a doctor’s office in Columbus, Ohio. As of the third week of September, all the chains had a supply of the vaccine in stock, as did the doctor’s office. Some employers organize a flu-shot day for employees and spouses, with the cost dependent on your insurance and employer.
Price Breakdown. For self-pay, Costco is cheapest: $14.99 for members and non-members alike, compared with $20 at Sam’s Club. Target and Walmart price the injection about the same, at $24.99 and $25, respectively. Kroger is charging $30 this year, while Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens cluster on the high end, at $31.99. Prices at doctors’ offices vary widely. Last year a local physician quoted $82.70 for the flu vaccine. This year the going rate is $30.
Insurance Coverage for Flu Shots. Many insurance companies consider the influenza vaccine a preventive measure and cover some or part of the cost. Every pharmacy and the doctor’s office we contacted can run insurance information through their systems and quickly let patients know whether all, part, or none of the cost is covered. (Other doctors may not provide this convenience. The safest bet is to check with your insurance company before heading to an appointment.)
In-Store Rewards. To entice consumers to the pharmacy for a flu shot, many retailers offer in-store perks to soften the sting. At CVS, customers receive a 20 percent-off shopping pass up to $100, good for any non-sale and non-pharmacy item. The Pharmacy Rewards program at Target offers 5 percent savings on a full day of shopping with every five prescriptions filled, and a flu shot counts toward that. Each flu shot at Walgreens translates into a donated vaccine for a child in need.
Appointments/Walk-Ins. Every place we called, aside from the doctor’s office, adheres to the same policy: no appointment necessary. Just walk in and wait your turn. Most pharmacies estimate a 10- to 15-minute wait, more or less, depending on traffic. If you go on a weekend, patience may be in order. Check your doctor’s office for procedures — some require appointments and others have designated walk-in times.