Flu season is serious. There are so many cases of influenza every year that the CDC does not record them individually for a variety of reasons. As many as 49,000 people may die in a given year regardless of age from flu or flu-related complications.
Active duty members of the military are required to have a flu shot every year. This requirement means active duty service members get their shots for free. But what about military dependents?
There are many ways to get free or reduced-cost flu shots to prevent getting sidelined by influenza. Some of them are very easy to take advantage of while others may require a bit of homework on the patient’s part.
What Is in Your Flu Shot
Do you know what’s in your flu shot and how it works to prevent infections of the influenza virus?
- The flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine that contains a dead virus.
- The flu shot helps your body develop protective antibodies that can help prevent infection.
- The flu shot is strongly recommended for all age groups starting at six months to 64 years old.
- Some providers may offer a “high dose” flu shot intended for patients aged 65 years and older.
Flu Shot Timing Is Important
It’s not just whether your immune system is ready for flu season. Yes, your protection is enhanced if you get immunized early, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community.”
Got Your Flu Shot Today? You Aren’t Safe From the Flu…Yet
The CDC adds that you are NOT protected instantly when you get the injection or other delivery method. Most patients will require about two weeks after vaccination to develop the protective antibodies that will fight the flu virus.
It’s important to remember that even with aggressive preventive health (frequent hand washing, avoiding contact with the sick, etc.) you can still be exposed to the flu without knowing it. Why? Because the flu is contagious even before people begin to show symptoms. That means your office colleague or significant other may be infecting you at this very moment even though they don’t appear to be ill.
Getting Inoculated Before Flu Season Begins
The standard CDC recommendation is to get flu shots before Halloween.
But getting the flu shot early has another hidden benefit. Those who line up for their shots long before flu season receive the immunization and don’t worry about depleted vaccinations at the stores.
Yes, America can experience a shortage of flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control has a page dedicated to tracking and advising consumers of such shortages which are NOT limited to the flu shot.
Everything from Measles to Rotavirus can come up short depending on demand, time of year, whether there are an epidemic-level number of cases in a given year, etc. Get your shots early to avoid missing out.
Children sometimes required two flu shots. Those who do require them approximately two weeks apart or more according to the CDC. This is another important factor to consider where the timing of your flu shots are concerned.
Flu Shots with TRICARE
Eligible TRICARE enrollees can get flu shots covered by TRICARE. Guidelines for this service include the following TRICARE rules:
- Only vaccines given by a pharmacist are covered by the pharmacy benefit with no cost to the patient.
- If your flu vaccine is administered by a provider at an onsite clinic, it may not be covered. Patients may be required to pay the full expense out-of-pocket.
- You visit your primary care provider to get flu shots if your pharmacy has restrictions or there are no flu shots available. In such cases copayments or cost shares for the office visit may be required.
Flu Shot Procedures for Guard/Reserve Members under TRICARE
The TRICARE official site instructs Guard and Reserve members to seek out flu shots at a military hospital or clinic first. Influenza vaccines may also be available from retail pharmacies in your TRICARE network. Those who choose to get flu shots from a network pharmacy MUST receive their vaccination from a pharmacist.
Guard and Reserve members are warned NOT to get a flu shot from “an onsite medical clinic at the pharmacy.” This is because the entire cost of the shot will be billed to you and you’ll be required to pay out of pocket.
Any Guard/Reserve member who goes to a network doctor not listed as the patient’s primary care manager (PCM) must have a referral from the PCM. You may also be required to document the shot with the following information:
- The date of the vaccination
- The vaccine name or code
- Lot number
Free Flu Shots for Those Eligible to Receive VA Care
If you are eligible to receive VA health care, you can receive a flu shot at a VA clinic. If you are not already in the system, you’ll be required to complete VA Form 10-10EZ. Submit to your nearest VA medical center along with your DD Form 214 discharge paperwork or the equivalent before you can receive a free flu shot.
No-Cost Flu Shots at Walgreens for Veterans Eligible for VA Medical Care
Walgreens offers a limited program for veterans who are eligible for VA medical care. The company provides a no-cost flu shot option (quadrivalent vaccine only and NOT the high-dose version offered to seniors).
This program is subject to availability and may be in limited supply in March of 2019. State law, the patient’s age, and other factors may determine whether this program is open to a particular patient.
This program is NOT open to TRICARE enrollees or dependents.
No-Cost or Reduced Cost Flu Shots for Dependents and Those Not Eligible for VA Medical Care
There are several options that those who do not qualify for the free flu shot programs mentioned above can try. You may be able to locate a free flu shot via your health insurance provider’s recommendation, for example.
Employer-Provided Flu Shots
Some employers may offer free or cut-price flu shots to employees. There may also be free shots offered for short amounts of time at local health-oriented businesses such as urgent care clinics and campus health care centers. College students should definitely check their campus health center options first.
Free Flu Shots at Target
Target offers free flu shots. One campaign, active at the time of this writing, offers a five dollar coupon to those who take advantage of the free inoculations. The Target program is administered by CVS Pharmacy and supplies may be limited based on demand and other variables.
Reduced-Cost Flu Shots at Retail Outlets
In the same way that Target offers free flu shots, other retailers may have programs offering cheap flu shots. Free is always better, but sometimes you may not have a choice. When you can’t find a free inoculation, the following retailers have provide affordable services:
- Costco Flu Shots may be available at a reduced cost even for non-Costco members.
- Rite Aid Flu Shots
- Meijer Flu Shots
- Walmart Flu Shots
- Sam’s Club Flu Shots may be available at a reduced cost even for non-members.
- Kroger Flu Shots
Some of these programs (such as Walmart) provide flu shots at no-out-of-pocket cost to the patient if their insurance programs cover it. It’s best to ask about this before you go.
Flu Shot Programs at Local Clinics, Hospitals, Public Libraries
Before and during flu season, your local hospital may offer a reduced-price flu shot as an incentive to help reduce the number of local serious flu cases. You can also sometimes find free immunization programs at public libraries or other locally-operated city, state, or federal government agencies.
Free Flu Shots in Local Airports
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport in Illinois have made headlines in the past by offering flu shots to travelers. Once upon a time these shots were administered by the O’Hare International Airport’s UIC Medical Center. By the time this practice spread to Midway, they provided the influenza shots via kiosks set-up in easier to access parts of the airport.
Not all airports offer this service, but you can search for programs near you via the airport’s official website.
Flu Shots from County Health Departments
Your local county health department may sponsor a free or low-cost flu shot program. Not all areas will feature such programs, but it’s worth investigating in your area.
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