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Find an affordable flu shot

The influenza season is off to an early -- and nasty -- start. If you're without health insurance, try these tactics for getting vaccinated today.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 10, 2013 3:08PM

Person receiving a vaccine (Jeffrey Hamilton, Lifesize, Getty Images)As of earlier this week, eight Chicago-area emergency rooms weren't accepting new patients. The ERs went on "bypass" status, asking ambulance drivers to take cases elsewhere if it's safe to do so.

What was the cause of the patient overflow? The flu.


If you didn't get vaccinated last fall, it may be time to rethink that decision.

In Chicago and across the nation, the flu season is "off to its earliest and most active start in nearly a decade," according to the Chicago Tribune. Normally, the time frame is from mid-December through March, peaking during the second half of January.

But between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, nearly 100 flu patients were admitted to intensive care units in the Chicago area alone. In the same time period last year, one person was sent to a Chicago ICU.

At least the Chicago patients are still indoors. A hospital near Allentown, Pa., has set up a tent outside the emergency room for flu patients. Pennsylvania is being hit hard by the virus, with 11,327 laboratory-confirmed flu cases and 22 fatalities since Oct. 2, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  

It takes about two weeks for the influenza vaccine (via injection or inhalation) to become effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Your health insurance should cover the cost of vaccination, though  a copay or other fee might be required.

No insurance? Here are some ways around the $32-$44 immunization cost:

Inexpensive or free prevention

Public health.
Go to your state's department of public health website to look for information on immunization at public health clinics. Depending on your income, your shot might be free.



Federally qualified health centers.


More than 8,500 federally qualified health centers provide care based on patients' ability to pay. If you can't afford health insurance or a private doctor, use this link to find sliding-scale health care, which includes immunizations.

The senior health program covers flu vaccines with no copay and no deductible.

Vaccines for Children program.
More than 44,000 doctors nationwide offer free immunizations through this program. Children younger than 19 can use VFC if they are uninsured, underinsured, Medicaid-eligible or American Indian/Alaska Native. Note: Some doctors may charge a fee for administering the vaccine, but your child cannot be turned away if you can't afford the fee.


Other places for care
Flu shots may be offered through workplaces, churches, schools and Women Infant Children nutrition programs. They also pop up in random places, such as the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which features free influenza vaccine  this year through Jan. 12.

I can think of three ways to look for offbeat opportunities like those:


  • Check your local newspaper and/or its website.
  • Do a Bing search for free or reduced-price shots in your neighborhood.
  • Call the 2-1-1 essential services clearinghouse number and ask if any social services agency or organization is giving flu shots.


If you have insurance but no primary care physician, get immunized at one of those "doc in the box" urgent care clinics or at a pharmacy or retail store. Walgreens, CVS and other stores may even bill insurance, i.e., you won't have to pay up front.


Still searching? Type your zip code into the "vaccine finder" at to find providers in your area.

More on MSN Money:

Jan 10, 2013 6:48PM
Get the flu shot.  You will not only be helping yourself, but others as well.  While I don't believe all of what the government publishes, the CDC does a better job at trying to keep the public out of harm's way.  By getting the shot you will not only be protecting yourself from the ill effects of the flu, you may also be helping those around you.
Jan 10, 2013 5:39PM

Do not get ANY vaccinations! Honestly, my kid would NEVER get a vaccination for anything. All these scare tactics is B.S. Live well and eat healthy. don't need the goverment telling you what you need. Do not get these vaccinations. They are not what you think. They will kill you.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.