October is the month when cases of influenza begin to pick up in the United States, and it's a recommended time to get vaccinated.
For most people — those with health insurance — flu shots have been free, without co-payments, ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed.
But if you're planning to get a flu shot, there's something even better than free.
A number of retail stores with pharmacies offer flu shots and many run promotions to encourage people to get their shots in their place of business. Such promotions have become the norm, to the point where I fully expect to be paid for getting a flu shot each year.
Most promotions offer $5 or $10, often as a store coupon. Some come with strings attached, such as having to spend a certain amount in the store in order to use the credit.
The best offer I've seen in the Charleston area this flu season is at Publix grocery store pharmacies, where customers who get a flu shot get a $10 Publix gift card.
Bi-Lo and Winn Dixie stores are also offering $10, which comes as a coupon that can only be used for produce.
Target stores are offering a $5 store coupon.
At Harris Teeter, according to the grocery chain's website, stores are only offering 50 fuel points (worth a nickel off per gallon, one time) to those who get no-cost flu shots. If you get a shot at Harris Teeter, check with the pharmacy, because last year the stores were offering $5 coupons that weren't mentioned online.
In general, grocery stores offer more generous flu shot promotions than do traditional pharmacies.
For those who decide to go to a grocery store for a shot, I have suggestions, particularly for those who might go to a store where they don't usually shop.
- Consider calling ahead to make sure they have vaccines available. My local Publix was out of flu shots Thursday, and calling ahead saved me a trip.
- If it's more convenient, print out and fill out the immunization consent form for South Carolina ahead of time. Publix has them online, but they aren't much trouble to fill out in stores.
- While you're there for a shot, grab a copy of the weekly circular and see what's on sale. If it's not your regular grocery store there will likely be different things on sale there.
At CVS pharmacies, customers who get a flu shot at a Minute Clinic get a $5-off coupon toward a $25 in-store purchase. That's up to 20 percent off an in-store purchase.
While there are lots of ways to get a free flu shot, there are plenty of people who don't have insurance, and aren't students or veterans, and don't have large employers giving out free vaccinations.
For those who must pay for a flu shot, goodrx.com — a terrific source for discounted drug prices, by the way — claims that Costco offers the best deal. That's $19.99, with no Costco membership required.
Other low-cost choices are Bi-Lo stores ($24 with a coupon from goodrx.com) and Walmart-owned Sam's Club ($30).