What You Need to Know About Getting Vaccinated at a Pharmacy

If you need a flu shot or to get up to date on other vaccinations, then the solution may be as close as your local drugstore.

Pharmacists are making a major contribution to the “immunization neighborhood,” says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor of preventive medicine and health policy at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. “Today, pharmacists are well-trained in vaccines and their indications, as well as with inoculation technique.”

Chances are your pharmacist is more readily accessible than your doctor, making it easier to stay on top of your vaccination needs. According to a study published in the January–February 2018 issue of Canadian Pharmacists Journal, people are likely to see their local druggist as much as 10 times more frequently than they visit their primary care physician.

“Patients have more encounters with pharmacists than with their healthcare providers,” says Dr. Schaffner. “Each of those contacts is an opportunity to review the immunization history and to bring vaccinations up to date.”

Jenny Sippel-Thompkins, director of pharmacy at AdventHealth Orlando, agrees. “As the most accessible provider of healthcare, pharmacists have become a convenient option for vaccinations,” she says. “Pharmacists can provide comprehensive education about the value of recommended vaccines, too.”

Where Can You Get Vaccinations?

Vaccinations are administered at drugstore chains, including CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens, warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club, and many independent pharmacies.

State laws vary on what specific vaccinations can be given, and whether a doctor’s prescription is needed.

“Pharmacists who administer vaccines must complete additional training for their state licenses and follow protocols for vaccination safety,” says Sippel-Thompkins.

Planning Your Vaccine Visit to the Drugstore

If you are going to the pharmacy for vaccination, there are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Most pharmacies do not require an appointment and operate on a walk-in basis. But if you need several immunizations or if you’re getting the entire family vaccinated, it’s a good idea to call ahead.
  • Pharmacies have different age limits for vaccines. For example, Walgreens administers immunizations for children ages 7 and up, whereas vaccines at Sam’s Club are available for patients ages 8 and older.
  • Allow at least 10 minutes for the pharmacist to prepare for your immunizations.
  • Bring your insurance information and photo ID.
  • You will have to sign a consent form, and the pharmacy will send the information to your healthcare team to update your medical records.
  • After you receive the immunizations, stick around for a little while just in case you have any kind of reaction.
  • If you are unsure about the recommended immunizations for children and adults, review the schedules provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What Vaccines Can a Pharmacist Give?

Along with the flu shot, most pharmacists can administer vaccines to protect against:

  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Hepatitis A (hep A)
  • Hepatitis B (hep B)
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
  • Meningitis (meningococcal)
  • Pneumonia (pneumococcal)
  • Polio
  • Shingles (herpes zoster)
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap)
  • Chickenpox (varicella)

Some pharmacies can also provide CDC-recommended travel immunizations. Walgreens, for instance, offers destination-specific vaccines for Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, and yellow fever.

In addition to vaccinations, other kinds of injections may be available. CVS, for example, offers birth control and vitamin B12 injections.

“Pharmacists are conveniently located, making it easy [for patients] to be vaccinated,” says Dr. Schaffner. “I look forward to [them] playing an even larger role in providing this essential preventive health service in the future.”

How Much Do Vaccines Cost?

Pharmacies that offer immunizations will file with your insurance plan. You may still have a deductible or copay. Some private insurers cover 100 percent of vaccination costs.

Medicare fully covers the flu, pneumonia, and hepatitis B vaccines under Part B. If you have Medicare Part D (the Medicare Advantage plan), vaccinations are treated like prescription drugs with copays and deductibles.

It pays to shop around. Not all pharmacies charge the same for vaccinations, so knowing which one is cheapest requires doing some homework.

Also, know that Costco’s pharmacies are open to nonmembers where required by state law, and membership is not required to get vaccinations at Sam’s Club.

Pharmacies frequently offer free loyalty or rewards programs. Members can earn points towards discounts on in-store purchases, including immunizations.

Can I Get Free or Low-Cost Vaccinations?

Whether you go to a pharmacy, your doctor’s office, or an urgent care clinic, vaccines can be pricey if you don’t have insurance or can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs. That doesn’t mean you have to give up essential vaccinations.

There are several ways you and your family can get free or low-cost vaccines.

The Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) provides vaccines at no cost for children under age 19 who qualify for Medicaid, don’t have insurance or can’t cover out-of-pocket insurance costs, and are Native American or Alaskan Native.

Federally funded health centers provide vaccinations, and the cost may vary based on your income. You can search for local health centers on the Health Resources and Services Administration website.

Your state’s health department can also provide information on getting free or low-cost vaccines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers an online directory of state health departments.

Check to see if local community centers, schools, or places of worship are offering vaccinations.

The HHS website provides many vaccine-related resources, including a searchable database to find places offering vaccines in your ZIP code or city.

“Dependent on your state’s laws, your local pharmacist can play a major role in keeping you and your family healthy, all with speed and convenience in your neighborhood,” says Sippel-Thompkins.

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