Should You Get That Drugstore Shot?
Even beyond flu shots, getting vaccinated at the pharmacy might be smart
Next time you’re at the local pharmacy to buy toothpaste, razors and deodorant, you may want to consider getting a flu shot. And while you’re there, why not get your kid his measles vaccine?
Most drugstores owned by big chains — including CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens — now offer a wide variety of vaccinations. If you need to get your children vaccinated for school and the doctor can’t see them for several weeks, a quick trip to the drugstore may be just what the doctor ordered.
“We have seen a steady increase in the number of consumers going to the pharmacy for immunizations over the last five years,” says Jon Roth, CEO of the California Pharmacists Association. “It’s so convenient.”
It’s handy for doctors, too. “A lot of doctors don’t want to carry every vaccine in their office," says Heather Free, PharmD, a spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association and a practicing pharmacist in Washington, DC. "So they like to use the pharmacy, and they send over orders.”
What shots can you get?
At least 45 states allow pharmacies to provide all the vaccines approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means you can get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, pneumonia, polio, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) and varicella (chickenpox), to name a just few. (Check out which states let pharmacies administer which vaccines.)
Getting ready for a trip abroad? You can get vaccinated against many diseases you may encounter on your journey, such as typhoid or meningitis, according to Consumer Reports.
Is it safe to get vaccinated at the drugstore?
You may feel nervous about getting a shot outside of a doctor’s office, but there’s no cause to worry. Pharmacists are very knowledgeable about vaccinations and are well trained in immunization techniques. States require pharmacists to be certified to administer injections, and some require additional courses in immunology.
Most states allow student interns to give vaccinations as well, but only under the supervision of a pharmacist. The pharmacy interns “are always monitored by the pharmacist and must complete the state’s requirements for immunization training,” says Free. This often includes being CPR certified and vaccinated against hepatitis B, in addition to completing a certain amount of continuing education, she says.
Related: Measles Vaccination: Who Needs It?
Know before you go
If you’re ready to take advantage of this service, here are some tips.
Find out which drugstores offer the vaccines you need. Go to Healthmap.org and type in your zip code and the vaccine you need, and you’ll see which pharmacies in your area can immunize you. You can also contact the health department in your state to find out where you can get vaccinated.
Avoid drugstore flu shots if you have an egg allergy. If you are allergic to eggs, bypass the drugstore and get a flu shot only in a doctor’s office or a clinic prepared to treat you for an allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. (Another caution: People allergic to eggs should not get a nasal flu vaccine anywhere, according to the CDC.)
Check with your doctor if you’re pregnant or nursing before getting any drugstore vaccinations.
Make sure you're eligible. For example, most insurance plans cover the shingles vaccine only for adults over 60.
Ask about kids. About a dozen states do not allow pharmacies to vaccinate people under age 18, according to the American Pharmacists Association.
Figure out whether your insurer covers drugstore vaccinations. “Most commercial health plans will cover immunizations through the pharmacy unless it is a closed health plan like Kaiser,” says Roth. To be sure, check with your insurance plan before you visit the store. The Affordable Care Act requires most insurers to cover CDC-recommended immunizations without any co-pay, the CDC notes. If your insurance covers pharmacy vaccines, the pharmacist should be able to file the claim directly with your plan.
Tell the pharmacist about any medical conditions you and your children have. For example, if your child has asthma, he should get a flu shot rather than the nasal spray flu vaccine, according to the CDC.
Shop around for the best price. According to Consumer Reports, prices vary enough to make this worthwhile. Also, some pharmacies give rewards for getting your vaccines there if you sign up for their free loyalty programs. With each vaccine you earn points that may add up to some real discounts on items you buy at the pharmacy.
Keep records of the vaccines you or your children receive. Ask your pharmacist to forward information about your vaccinations to your doctor, but keep a copy to give to your doctor just in case. If your state has a vaccine registry, make sure the pharmacy uses it to record your shots.
“Everybody’s reporting system is different,” says Free. “But many states require us to log in through a portal to access the patient’s medical record and note that they were immunized, and this information goes to the physician.”
Make an appointment if you’re pressed for time. You don’t need an appointment to get vaccinated at a pharmacy, but most chain drugstores offer appointments if you want one. Factor in the time to fill out a basic medical history and consent form, as well as an authorization to release your health care information.