You are not alone in your quest for a flu shot, even this late into the season. The severity of the current epidemic has scared a lot of folks into getting their vaccines. But,since not even 40 percent of Americans had gotten their shot by November 2017, we’re now experiencing some spot shortages even at large pharmacies. That’s making it harder for people to actually get the shot—exactly what you don’t want at the peak of flu season.
But you’re right to seek out the vaccine. It’s not too late to get the flu shot and it could save your life or the lives of others. The acting director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Anne Schuchat, said in a press call last week that “Because of the ongoing intensity of the flu season and the increasing circulation of influenza B and H1N1, we continue to recommend vaccination even this late in the season.” Unlike H3N2, the flu shot offers fairly good protection against the B and H1N1 strains, and Schuchat continued to stress that “some protection is better than none.”
But what happens when your local pharmacy says it’s out? The good news is that there’s no nationwide shortage, so you’ll be able to get the shot somewhere. The CDC estimates that about 154.3 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed, but that’s well within the range of the estimate that manufacturers have made. It’s just a matter of finding which pharmacies have them in stock.
So here’s a quick guide to how to find a vaccine near you:
Head over to Vaccine Finder
The CDC works in conjunction with an organization called HealthMap to run Vaccine Finder, a website that tells you can get any type of vaccine near your provided zip code or address. You can even search specifically for certain types of flu shot, like the cell-based (the one people with egg allergies used to get, though it turns out they can get the normal shot too) or high-dose versions, if you want or need one in particular.
It also lists how much the vaccine will cost you, if it costs anything at all. This will largely depend on what your insurance covers, so if there’s no price listed online that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily free, just that some clinics have listed their charges up front. Most pharmacies list their prices online, or you can call to check. Many are totally free, especially if you have Medicaid.
Call the pharmacy first
Unfortunately, the site can only tell you whether the store typically carries the flu shot, not if it’s currently in stock. There’s no online tool that keeps track of individual pharmacies’ vaccine supplies. For that, you’ll need to call the pharmacy itself and ask.
Don’t be discouraged if the first place you call doesn’t have any vaccines left. When PopSci called a few local pharmacies in Manhattan, we found that the shortage had less to do with the location and more to do with the store brand. If one store in the area was out, it seemed that many locations within that chain were out even though another store a few blocks away was fully stocked. This might be because the large chains stock all their stores in a particular area at once, so switching to another chain may help you find a shot faster.
The CDC also encouraged large national chains to stock up this year, rather than restock periodically, so they may be a better bet than the clinics for your first phone call.
Don’t give up!
If the first couple stores are out of stock, try asking the pharmacist if they know who might still have vaccines. They may have heard something you haven’t, or be able to tell you how soon their store might be restocking.
The most important thing is to not stop trying. Getting vaccinated is your best bet to avoid getting a nasty case of the flu—yes, even in a year like this one where the vaccine isn’t very effective. Become a flu shot detective and track that bad boy down.