Every year, it’s the same old story: Flu season comes around and, despite warnings and full-out campaigns from health organizations, people start dropping like flies. Attendance drops at schools all over the country and employees use up all of their sick days at work.
For whatever reason, people seem to defy the flu shot. Some excuses I’ve heard — and, admittedly, have said myself — include “I never get sick” and “The flu shot doesn’t work anyway.”
The fact of the matter is that everyone is susceptible to the flu, and the shot does work. And there are only two groups of people who should not get the flu vaccine. Keep reading to learn about where you can find flu shots and why you need to get one.
Where can I find flu shots near me?
Most local pharmacies offer flu shots, as do drug stores and quick clinics. All of the major chain pharmacies in the US — CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger — offer flu shots at most of their locations across the country.
You can also ask your primary care physician about getting a flu shot. Many urgent care clinics also offer flu shots, but you might have to cough up a copay — which is still better than coughing up your lungs if you get the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a handy flu shot finder that works by ZIP code: Try it here.
Are flu shots free?
If you have insurance, you can get a discounted or free flu shot almost anywhere, including local pharmacies, chain pharmacies and your primary care doctor’s office.
If you go to urgent care, the shot itself might be free or discounted, but you’ll likely have to pay the copay. And at your doctor’s office, they’ll probably offer the shot for free, but you might have to pay for the office visit — keep these things in mind when weighing your options.
Where to get a flu shot if you don’t have insurance
If you don’t have insurance, the best place to get a flu shot is usually a pharmacy, according to Rite Aid’s executive vice president of pharmacy and retail operations, Jocelyn Konrad. The cost typically ranges from $30 to $40, but there will be no copay or office visit fee.
Some pharmacies offer discounts or promotions on flu shots, such as CVS’s “$5 off $25” coupon when you get your flu shot.
When do I need to get the flu shot?
The ideal time to get vaccinated is before flu season starts and before the flu begins spreading in your community, Konrad told CNET.
The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, but getting vaccinated later in the season can still protect you.
Do I really need one every year?
“Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, there are new vaccinations released every year to match the most common flu viruses expected during the upcoming season,” Konrad said. “Last season’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s viruses.”
Additionally, the body’s immune response from vaccination wanes over time, so annual vaccination is your best defense against the flu.
Does the flu shot give you the flu?
No, no and no again.
This common misconception influences many people to skip their flu shot each year, but the flu shot cannot give you the flu.
“Some people report having mild reactions to flu vaccination, such as low-grade fever and aches, that are mistaken for the flu,” Konrad told CNET, “but those symptoms aren’t actually the flu.”
The CDC explains why. Flu shots are made in two ways:
- With inactive (dead) flu viruses that aren’t infectious; or
- With one gene from a flu virus, as opposed to the whole virus.
Inactive flu vaccines aren’t infectious, and the single-gene vaccines produce an immune response but aren’t strong enough to cause an infection.
Flu shots for babies and children
Young children and babies have a higher risk of contracting the flu, so it’s even more critical for them to get vaccinated, Konrad said.
However, babies younger than six months cannot receive the vaccine, so families with infants should take extra precautions.
“It is absolutely vital that parents, older siblings, and all caregivers receive a flu shot if there is an infant younger than six months old in the household,” Konrad said. “This will decrease the chances of these individuals contracting the flu and spreading it to the child.”