'Tis the season for pumpkin spice everything, black tights, and the flu vaccine. The flu, short for influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness. Thankfully, there's a vaccine. While getting the flu shot isn't exactly our idea of a fun time, it's better than the flu knocking you out and keeping you in bed, away from all the fun fall activities. According to the CDC, flu symptoms include body aches, fatigue, and a sore throat — and some people even experience fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. And what's really scary? In some cases, the flu can even lead to death.
"Vaccination against flu is the best means to protect oneself against the flu," says Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease doctor at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "Even if one gets the flu despite the vaccine, the flu one experiences is much less likely to be severe, or result in pneumonia, hospitalization, and death." As Allure reported, last year's caused over 80,000 American deaths. To protect yourself and to avoid even missing work, get a flu shot. Here's where you can get a flu vaccine for free.
Where can I get the flu shot?
Where you can get the flu vaccine depends on your health care coverage, but there are options for everyone. "All insurance companies cover flu vaccines," says Adalja. "A person can inquire at their local hospital where there may be free flu vaccine clinics that they can attend."
Many pharmacies advertise a free flu shot, but unfortunately, the true cost tends to depend on your insurance. Remember that under the Affordable Care Act, you can stay on your parent's insurance until you're 26.
If you have private insurance:
If you're on private insurance through your family, employer, or school, the CDC says that most plans provide a flu vaccine without a co-pay even if you haven't reached your deductible. Get your vaccine at your primary care doctor, or a pharmacy such as CVS, Walgreens, or Rite Aid. Both CVS and Walgreens offer an online locator so you can find a store that accepts your insurance. Give your neighborhood pharmacy a call to confirm that they take your plan.
If you have Medicare:
In addition to your primary care provider, most major pharmacies accept Medicare. Give them a call beforehand to confirm.
If you have Medicaid:
Everyone with Medicaid should also have access to free or low-cost flu shots. Most major pharmacies provide free flu shots covered by Medicaid, and as always, give them a call to confirm beforehand.
If you're in the military:
If you're in the military or a military-dependent, under Tricare, vaccines are covered under the CDC-recommended schedule. You can get the shot free at your primary care provider, a military hospital or clinic, or a participating pharmacy. Search for one near you here.
If you don't have insurance:
Don't stress if you don't have insurance. You can also go to a pharmacy, such as CVS or Walgreens, and pay about $40 for ages 2 to 64 and around $70 for those 65 and older. Costco offers flu shots at $20, regardless of age. "Even if you don't have health insurance, there are many places to get the flu shot that accept out of pocket payment including Walmart, CVS, Target and more," says Edo Paz, a cardiologist based in New York City. "You should also check with your employer to see if they offer flu shots, many do even if you aren't enrolled in health insurance through them," he adds.
What else should I know?
Flu season is from October to May of each year, and the vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, so go get one now. The flu comes in multiple strains, and researchers do their best to create a vaccine to protect us against the viruses that pose the highest risk each year.
"Dozens of influenza centers around the world are constantly conducting surveillance for influenza," says Paz. "The World Health Organization takes all this data and considers other factors like the availability of vaccine viruses before it makes a recommendation on the composition of the influenza vaccine."
Even though a vaccine isn't completely fool-proof, it's worth your time and energy. The vaccine can protect you against the flu and can reduce the severity and length should you be exposed.
While the vaccine won't give you the flu, it's not unusual to experience a little bit of nausea, headaches, fever, and muscle aches. These are small side effects compared to the flu, which in some cases can lead to pneumonia, hospitalization, and even death.
In addition to getting vaccinated, don't forget to step up your handwashing game and get plenty of rest. The flu shot is just a way to help keep you and those around you healthy so you can be present for all the fun that fall has to offer.
Read more stories about staying healthy:
- Will the 2019 Flu Season Be as Deadly as Last Year? Here's How to Prepare Yourself
- Why You Should Throw Out Your Lipstick After Getting Over a Cold
- “Period Flu” Could Be Why You Feel So Sick During Menstruation
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Originally Appeared on Allure