The 2016-2017 flu season has commenced in the Northern Hemisphere, and your best choice to avoid the effects of the flu is the seasonal flu vaccine. Despite the known dangers of the flu, even for healthy young adults, and the overall safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine, the uptake of the flu vaccine has been stubbornly low. As we’ll see later, maybe some of the reasons may be the flu vaccine cost.
During the 2015-2016 flu season in the USA, the CDC estimated the flu vaccine uptake for children, 6 months to 17 years old, was around 59.3%. And for adults, greater than 18 years, the uptake was estimated to be 41.7%. Both numbers are well below the 80-90% uptake required for herd immunity against the flu.
There are a lot of excuses for not getting the flu vaccine, even amongst dumb ass health care workers, but most of them are complete nonsense. However, there might be one excuse that can be hard to criticize – the flu vaccine cost.
Flu vaccine cost – the millennials
In September, the Harris Poll found that 52% of millennials plan to avoid getting the flu shot during the 2016-17 flu season. The poll, done on the behalf of the CityMD urgent care center network, showed that the millennials (the generation born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) gave the following reasons for not getting the flu vaccine:
- 49% said they don’t trust that it will keep them from getting the flu
- 29% said they think it could make them sick
- 25% don’t want to spend the money
- 23% don’t think they need it because they’ve never gotten the flu
- 4% don’t know where to get the flu shot
Let me quickly debunk these reasons (except for the flu vaccine cost which we’ll examine later). First up, the flu vaccine does vary in effectiveness from year to year. However, given the seriousness of the flu, that most individuals probably can’t work for over a week, especially if you have one nanogram of concern about contaminating your co-workers – even if the flu vaccine’s effectiveness is only 50%, that reduces one’s risk by that amount. Remember, there are complications from the flu, even to healthy adults, that include death. And if you are in any risk group, such as a diabetic, complications from flu can be much worse.
Next on the hit parade is the belief that the flu vaccine causes the flu. This is one of the most inane, ignorant and thoroughly debunked myths about the flu vaccine. It is biologically implausible, if not completely impossible, for the inactivated, or attenuated, viruses in the vaccine to become infectious in a human. There is simply no evidence that the flu vaccine causes the flu.
The next point, that they have never gotten the flu, is also ridiculous. I suppose, by some random combination of events, someone may have avoided the flu, possibly because everyone around them got the flu vaccine. But as they say in those financial adverts on TV, past performance is not an indicator of future results. No one is inherently immune to the flu, so there is a strong random probability one will eventually catch it if they are not immunized. Every year brings new flu virus subtypes, and unless one is vaccinated against them, they are at risk of catching it.
The last point about not knowing where to get the flu shot is laughable. Just about every pharmacy chain in the USA provides the vaccine. Many health departments have flu clinics. Every physician gives the vaccine. That’s the lamest excuse ever.
Now let’s get back to the point I skipped – the flu vaccine cost. I know a lot of millennials are shouldering a huge amount of student debt, can’t find decent jobs, and probably living on handouts or “loans” from their parents. And maybe on the list of life’s necessities, a flu vaccine ranks down near the bottom. But are you millennials looking at these financials decisions in rational manner? I say not.
- Generally, the flu takes 7-10 days for recovery and to be past the contagious stage. The cost of missing work, if you are hourly or don’t have sick leave, can reach hundreds of dollars.
- Treating the flu, from prescription drugs like Tamiflu to over-the-counter flu symptom relievers of limited efficacy, probably costs more than your typical flu shot.
- The risk of complications is high. If the flu develops into pneumonia, one might have to go to an emergency department somewhere, which will also cost more than the flu.
In other words, avoiding the cost of the flu vaccine may actually cost you more in the long run. I know that many of us make short-term economic choices, but in this case, the risk of spending much much more far exceeds the relatively low cost of the vaccine.
In general, the flu shot runs from $14.99 to around $30 at many places in the USA (and now, the 4% of you millennials who don’t know where to get the flu shot, here you go):
- Costco Flu Shots: Costs $14.99 for standard trivalent (protection against 3 strains of flu). No quadrivalent (protection against 4 strains). If you don’t have health insurance, Costco is, by far, the cheapest. So when you’re picking up a case of Cheetos, get your flu short for less than a six pack of craft beer.
- CVS Flu shots: No trivalent (though possibly they will later). Costs $39.99 for quadrivalent. You get a 20% off one-time coupon valid on non-sale merchandise and non-pharmacy purchases up to $50 (maximum value $10).
- Walgreen’s Flu Shots: Costs $31.99 for standard trivalent. $39.99 for quadrivalent.
- Rite Aid Flu Shots: Costs $32.99 for standard trivalent. $39.99 for quadrivalent.
- Meijer Flu Shots: Costs $27.99 for standard trivalent. $50 for quadrivalent.
- Wal Mart Flu Shots: Costs $27.88 for standard trivalent. $32.54 for quadrivalent.
- Sam’s Club Flu Shots: Costs $15 for standard trivalent. $25 for quadrivalent.
- Kroger Flu Shots: Costs $30 for standard trivalent. $40 for quadrivalent.
- Target Flu Shots: No trivalent (as of now). $39.99 for quadrivalent. Note that CVS now runs Target pharmacies (prices are the same), but you do get a $5 Target gift card if you get a flu shot at a Target CVS pharmacy.
But you really can get these vaccines for free. If you have health insurance, especially under Obamacare, you can get the vaccine for free, or for a small co-pay. Like I mentioned previously, most county health departments give away the vaccine for free, so contact them. Even if they have rules which say they’ll only vaccinate kids or the elderly, most will make exceptions if it’s hard to afford.
Yes, there might be a reason to fear the flu vaccine cost, but really, there are no excuses. It might take some work, go get the flu vaccine, and maybe save your life.
- Plans-Rubió P. The vaccination coverage required to establish herd immunity against influenza viruses. Prev Med. 2012 Jul;55(1):72-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2012.02.015. Epub 2012 Mar 4. PubMed PMID: 22414740.