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Where to Get Low-Cost Immunizations in the U.S.?

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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought vaccines into the limelight like never before. Vaccines prevent many dangerous infectious diseases. They activate our immune systems without making us sick. While natural immunity develops after a person has had an infection, vaccination allows us to obtain immunity without the serious risks and potentially fatal complications of a disease. 

Did you know that most health insurance plans in the U.S. cover the recommended vaccines for adults and children? And even if you are uninsured or underinsured, you can still get vaccinated without paying out-of-pocket? Please continue reading to learn about where you can get free or low-cost vaccines in the United States.

Are vaccines free in the United States?

Vaccines are not free in the United States. The complete immunization schedule, including all the recommended vaccines for children and adults, can run into hundreds of dollars. If you want to find out the price of a specific vaccine in the U.S. (for example, hepatitis B or varicella), the CDC website has a vaccine price list.

Does insurance cover vaccination in the U.S.?

Health insurance purchased through your state’s Affordable Care Act exchange will cover all routine vaccines recommended by the CDC. Medical plans from major players in the market and student health plans also usually cover vaccination. Routine vaccines are covered without a deductible, copay, or coinsurance if you get them from an in-network provider. However, travel vaccines may not be covered. In general, if you have insurance, you can likely get vaccinated in the U.S. at no out-of-pocket cost. 

The military insurance program TRICARE also covers all CDC-recommended vaccines for currently serving members of the military and their dependents. However, depending on the specific plan, there may be a fee or copay for immunization.

Medicare covers vaccination so that it is free or low cost for you. The actual cost will depend on where you get Medicare coverage, the specific vaccine you’re getting, and whether your doctor accepts Medicare. You can check the CDC website for more information on the vaccines covered by Medicare Part B and Part D.

Medicaid covers all the recommended vaccines for children and some for adults. Depending on the state you live in and the doctor from whom you get your vaccination, there may be a fee or copay.

Where can I get free or low-cost vaccines?

If you do not have health insurance, you are underinsured, or your plan’s copays are not affordable, you can get free or low-cost vaccines in the U.S. Some helpful resources are listed below.

Vaccines for Children

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program

The Vaccines for Children program covers all recommended vaccines for children under the age of 19 if they qualify for Medicaid, are uninsured, cannot afford the vaccine copay, or are Alaskan Native or Native American. You can get VFC vaccines and primary care services for your child at Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (FQCHC) regardless of your ability to pay. Vaccines under the VFC program may also be available at local public health agencies (LPHA). Eligible students may be able to receive VFC vaccines in other settings such as school-based health centers, community-funded clinics, rural health clinics, and private doctors’ offices (ask about additional fees that may be applicable to administer the shot or for the office visit).

State-Specific Programs

Each state has vaccination programs for children, such as the Shots for Tots and Teens in Colorado or the Minnesota Vaccines for Children Program. These programs offer free or lost-cost shots to children. It is worth spending some time to research state resources that cover children’s vaccines without any cost to you.

Vaccines for Adults

Federally-Funded Health Centers

These health care centers offer wellness care and preventive services, including vaccines, on a sliding scale fee based on your income. You can find a health center near you and ask if they offer specific vaccines.

State Department of Health

Your state health department can help you find resources for free or low-cost vaccines for your family, such as community centers, parish health units, and local health departments. Some free clinics in your community may not offer vaccinations but may be able to give you a prescription for a vaccine. The staff at these free clinics often have a wealth of knowledge about local low-cost medical services, including vaccinations.

Dial 211

This is a referral helpline that provides information on health and social services resources. They may be able to find low-cost adult vaccines, for example, a YMCA flu shot clinic in your community.

Vaccines.gov

If you enter your zip code on the government’s vaccine finder tool, it will show you nearby health clinics where vaccines are available. Some public health centers that offer immunizations will list their prices online. You will need to comparison shop to get the best price. Spending half an hour online may be worthwhile to get the lowest quote.

Private Physician Offices

If you get health care from a private physician, you can ask about adult vaccine charges at your doctor’s office. Be sure to ask if the charges include the cost of administering the vaccine and the charge for the office visit. Some vaccines require a prescription and you may need to get the prescription from your primary care provider. Although this is unlikely to be the lowest-cost option, it’s worth finding out.

Patient Assistance Programs

Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture adult vaccines sometimes have assistance programs for those who cannot afford vaccination. You can call to find out if you are eligible (this is almost always income-based) by calling. You may need to get a doctor’s clinic or health center to submit a financial aid application on your behalf. Contact information for a few patient assistance programs is listed below.

Merck Vaccine Patient Assistance Program 1-800-727-5400.

GSK Vaccines Access Program 1-800‑745‑2967 for Rabavert (Rabies), Boostrix (Tdap), and Shingrix (Zoster).

Pfizer RxPathways 1-844-989-7284.

Sanofi Pasteur  Patient Connection program 1-888-847-4877.

Prescription Discount Cards

Another option is to use a prescription discount card. For example, CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine, Shingrix. A savings card or coupon may also come in handy if you need a vaccine to travel to a foreign country, such as the yellow fever vaccine required in many South American countries. All you need is a signed prescription from your doctor in order to get a discount. 

Does Walgreens offer vaccines?

Most adult vaccines are available at Walgreens, Costco, and other local pharmacies. The immunization may be performed by the in-house pharmacist or the pharmacy may host a retail clinic where a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant can prescribe and administer vaccines. You can typically walk into these retail clinics without an appointment. Your local pharmacy may also offer one or two specific adult vaccines at a special clinic for a limited time period, for example, the flu vaccine in the fall. Retail clinics may charge you for the vaccination and separately for a clinic visit, so be sure to ask if the price is all-inclusive. Getting the vaccine from the pharmacist directly can help you avoid the visit charge.

Can I get the Covid vaccine if I have no health insurance?

Covid vaccines are 100% free for every eligible person living in the United States. You can get vaccinated against Covid even if you do not have insurance or you are underinsured. A Federal Uninsured Program is paying for COVID-19 immunizations for anyone without health insurance. 

In addition to Covid vaccines, Covid testing and Covid treatment are also free for all Americans. The government is paying for your COVID-19 related health care if you are uninsured or underinsured. If you do not have insurance and you receive a bill related to costs of Covid testing or treatment, ask your provider to bill the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program instead.

Can I get the Covid vaccine if I am not a citizen?

You can get a Covid vaccine in the U.S. irrespective of your immigration status. A government ID or social security number may be requested but is not mandatory. Your immigration status will not be shared with immigration agencies.

References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/awardees/vaccine-management/price-list/index.html
  2. https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-care-uninsured-individuals/index.html
  3. https://www.hhs.gov/immunization/get-vaccinated/pay/index.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults/pay-for-vaccines.html