If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how awful it is – high fever, muscle aches, chills, vomiting. You feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.
According to a 2007 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu costs employers $10.5 billion every flu season in expenses related to medical care, missed work, and reduced productivity.
Once you’ve got the it, antibiotics won’t help – they’re for bacterial infections, not viruses like the flu. So the best medicine is prevention, including common-sense things like washing your hands, avoiding contact with people to whatever extent possible, and especially getting vaccinated.
The CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get an annual flu shot, as well as those in high-risk groups, like children younger than 5, especially those less than 2, adults age 65 and older, pregnant women, native Americans, Alaskan natives, and anyone with a disease compromising the immune system.
One of the best ways to prevent the flu is to get the influenza vaccine – a flu shot - every year. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most private insurance is now required to cover preventive care, which includes vaccinations, at no cost: no co-pay, no deductible. The same is true for those covered by Medicare Part B.
If you don’t have insurance, there are still ways to find free or cheap flu shots. Check out this video by Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, then read on for more.
How effective is it?
According to the CDC, this year’s flu vaccine is about 60 percent effective in preventing influenza infection. Part of the reason flu shots can’t be 100 percent effective is that they’re developed months before flu season, so they can’t cover all strains and variations the virus may develop. But researchers say even if a vaccinated person does contract a flu virus, the symptoms and potential complications will often be much less severe.
To see where to find a flu shot in your area, check out flushot.healthmap.org. Here’s a roundup of some no or low-cost places to get a flu vaccine:
Where to get free flu shots
- Federally Qualified Health Centers – There are 8,500 Federally Qualified Health Centers across the United States, providing all sorts of health care, based on your ability to pay. See our story Can’t Afford Health Insurance? Here’s What to Do
- Community health clinics – Most communities have free or low-cost resources for people in need of health care. To find one near you, start by dialing 2-1-1, a free information service. You can also check your state’s department of public health website. Depending on your income, you may be able to find a cheap or free vaccine.
You’ll find flu shots at most drugstores in the pharmacy department. Most accept insurance and some offer added benefits, like discount coupons. Prices when we researched this story:
- CVS: $31.99, plus a 20 percent coupon for in-store shopping.
- Walgreens: $31.99
- Rite Aid: $29.99, plus a coupon booklet.
As with drug stores, many supermarkets also offer the vaccine in their pharmacies, and most accept insurance. Prices when we researched this story:
Discount and warehouse stores
Warehouse stores are places to save on more than just cereal and coffee – they also offer the best deals on flu shots. Prices when we researched this story:
- Costco: $16.99 This was by far the cheapest shot we found.
- Sam’s Club: According to their website, they’re only offering immunizations in Arizona.
- Target: $28
- Kmart: $25
Can you get sick from the flu vaccine?
If you think the vaccine will give you the flu, think again. This is one of the biggest myths about the flu the CDC wants to debunk. Influenza vaccines are made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit infection. It does take up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect and build up protection in the body, so a person can get sick during that time and mistakenly blame the vaccine. But it’s not caused by the flu shot.
The nasal spray flu vaccine may cause some mild symptoms such as runny nose, cough, or chills, but these symptoms don’t last long. The nasal spray vaccine is available for healthy patients ages 2-49 who aren’t pregnant. There are a few other people for whom a nasal spray vaccine isn’t recommended, like those with a severe egg allergy, and people with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Bottom line? Get a shot
Flu is a serious illness that can cause health complications and even death. And the single best thing you can do to avoid it is a flu shot, especially if you’re in a high-risk group. A healthy diet, adequate exercise, rest, and hygiene are also some common-sense ways to prevent infection. Frequent hand washing, especially in October through May, the months known for flu, can go a long way in helping everyone live a healthier life.
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