Almost everyone over the age of six months is recommended to get a flu shot, according to the CDC. And this year, with coronavirus and flu symptoms often mirroring one another, and a health system already strained by the pandemic, it’s encouraged more than ever.
Doctors say it’s best to wait until September or October, since the effectiveness of the flu shot decreases over time. But it takes about two weeks for the vaccination to fully kick in, which means you don’t want to drag your feet until November.
What should you do right now? Plan where you’ll get your shot. Note: If you’re working from home, your office may not provide them this year, which means you’ll need to find an alternative. Fortunately there are plenty, with many free options if you have health insurance.
Here’s where to get vaccinated across the Philadelphia region, and how it will work.
Flu shots are offered in most doctor’s offices. According to the CDC, all Health Insurance Marketplace plans and most other private insurance plans must cover flu shots without charging a copayment or coinsurance. But some insurance plans cover vaccines only given by your doctor or at a limited set of locations. Consult your provider to find out where you’re eligible to get a shot and still be covered.
If your primary doctor is your best or most convenient option, call their office first to ask about vaccine availability, and if you don’t have insurance, pricing. Generally, you’ll need to schedule an appointment and will be in and out of the office fairly quickly.
Urgent care centers
Most urgent care centers offer walk-in flu shots. You can simply show up, and they’ll try to get you in and out of the office within an hour. Some urgent care centers, like Main Line Health, allow you to book a reservation online.
If you have insurance, you may have to pay a copay. You can call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card to find out. Others charge a flat fee, whether you have insurance or not. For example, a flu shot through Jefferson Health Urgent Care costs $30. Call your closest urgent care center to learn about your options.
Most pharmacies and drug stores offer walk-in flu shots. Major chains, like Rite Aid, CVS, Kroger, Walgreens, and Walmart offer online pharmacy finders, which allow you to find the closest options to you, and many show flu shot availability. Some, like Walgreens, Walmart, and Kroger, allow you to schedule appointments online.
For family-owned or neighborhood pharmacies, call ahead to see your options.
Pharmacy flu shots are free with most insurance plans. Without insurance, prices generally range between $30 to $80, depending on which vaccine you want (trivalent vs. quadrivalent). For example, at CVS, a seasonal vaccine is $39.99 and a high-dose vaccine (recommended for those 65 years and older) is $69.99, and at Rite Aid, a seasonal vaccine is $39.99 and a high-dose vaccine is $78.99.
Some grocery stores with pharmacies, like those at Acme and Giant, offer walk-in flu shots. You’ll find a few locations this year offering drive-up flu shots in parking lots. Giant, for example, is offering drive-up flu shots at select locations through mid-October.
As with other pharmacies, flu shots at grocery stores are free with most insurance plans. If you don’t have insurance, prices vary and may be slightly higher than at a stand-alone pharmacy. At Giant pharmacies, a seasonal vaccine is $44 and a high-dose vaccine (recommended for those 65 years and older) is $82, and at Acme, a seasonal vaccine is $49 and a high-dose vaccine is $116.
Call ahead to check availability and pricing at your local grocery store pharmacy.
A community health center or community flu clinic
If you don’t have health insurance, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health provides flu shots at city health centers and community flu clinics. There currently aren’t any community flu clinics scheduled, but look to the city’s flu clinic calendar in October for updates, here. Community flu clinics offer the flu shot for free during set hours.
At both community flu clinics and community health centers, you must be between the ages of 19 and 64 and show proof of Philadelphia residency (mail addressed to you, photo ID, etc.). Community health centers accept walk-ins, and you can find a map with locations offering flu shots here. Community health centers charge a small fee, depending on family size and income.
Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services
Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services provides free flu shots to children ages 5 and under in neighborhoods across South Jersey (Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties). A calendar with dates and locations can be found here, and will be updated regularly with new locations.
A parent or caregiver must be present and give consent for the child to receive the vaccine. If it’s the child’s first flu vaccine, they’ll be asked to return in four weeks for a booster shot. No insurance is needed. Shots are given on a first-come, first-served basis, as well as by appointment, inside the Pediatric Mobile van as well as outside under a tent. Parents/caregivers and children must receive a temperature check and answer COVID-19 screening questions. You can call 609-304-0151 to learn more about the program and to schedule an appointment. The person who answers the phone speaks both Spanish and English.