How to Get Low-Cost Vaccines for Uninsured Adults

While programs providing for low-cost vaccines for children are common, low-cost vaccine programs for adults are harder to find. To get the vaccine you need at the lowest possible price, you’re going to have to put some legwork into the search.

The CDC keeps a list of current average vaccine costs, which is a great place to start your research.

Man getting a vaccine in a pharmacy
Terry Vine / Getty Images

Here’s what you need to know about getting low-cost vaccines for adults in the United States.

You’ll Have to Comparison Shop

It's not always the case that the lowest price for adult vaccines can be found in public or community health clinics. Invest half an hour of time calling vaccination centers in your area to get price quotes. 

Before you call, know which vaccines you need so that you can ask for a price quote on each of those vaccines. You can look up which vaccines are recommended for adults on the Center for Disease Control’s adult immunization schedules page.

When comparison shopping vaccination prices, be sure to ask if there are any extra charges to expect in addition to the cost of the vaccine, such as a fee for the office visit.

Some vaccination centers charge an all-inclusive price for each vaccination. Others have a charge for the vaccine itself, a charge for administering the vaccine (injecting the vaccine into your body), an additional charge for the office or clinic visit. These additional charges sometimes cost more than the vaccine.

Some vaccines require a prescription, some don’t. Which vaccines require a prescription varies from state to state. For vaccines that require a prescription, you may get the prescription from your primary care physician.

As an alternative, some vaccination centers have a provider who can write the prescription, although that service may come at an additional cost. If you don’t have a prescription for the vaccine you want, when you’re comparison shopping, ask if a prescription is required. If it is, ask whether or not that vaccination center has a provider that can write the prescription and how much that would cost.

Here are some other resources for low-cost adult vaccinations:

Local Public Health Department

Most public health departments, also known as county health departments or parish health units, provide adult vaccination services. Some provide them on a sliding-scale fee structure based on your ability to pay, others have a fixed price. Use the "local health centers and state health departments" list on this government page to locate your local public health department.

Community Health Centers

Community health centers provide comprehensive, affordable care to people with limited access to healthcare. In many cases, this includes adult vaccines. Fees are based on your income and ability to pay. Since not all communities have one, check to see if there is a community health center near you.

Free Clinics

Occasionally, free clinics provide adult vaccinations. However, even if the free clinic near you doesn’t provide free vaccinations, if one of the vaccines you need requires a prescription, the free clinic could be a good place to get that prescription.

Free clinic staff and volunteers usually have a wealth of knowledge about local community resources for low-cost medical services such as adult vaccination centers.

To find the free clinic closest to you, enter your zip code into the find-a-clinic tool on the website of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

Pharmacies

Many adult vaccines are available through your local pharmacy. Pharmacies can provide vaccines in three common ways:

  1. The pharmacist administers the vaccine.
  2. The pharmacy hosts a retail clinic staffed by a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant who can both prescribe and administer the vaccine. These retail clinics usually function on a walk-in basis; you don’t need an appointment.
  3. The pharmacy hosts an intermittent vaccine clinic that provides one or two vaccines for a limited period of time. These vaccine clinics are usually staffed by a nurse or paramedic. This is common during flu vaccine season when you might see a table set up near the pharmacy entrance advertising flu and pneumonia vaccines.

If you get your vaccine in a retail clinic, you may be charged for the clinic visit in addition to the vaccine. Be sure to ask. However, if you get your vaccine directly from the pharmacist rather than at the retail clinic, you can generally avoid the charge for the clinic visit.

Seasonal vaccine clinics such as those staffed by nurses during flu season usually quote an all-inclusive price for both the vaccine and its administration.

One chain pharmacy deserving a special mention is Costco. You don’t have to be a Costco member to use the pharmacy. Tell the person checking Costco cards at the store entrance that you’re going to the pharmacy. Many adult vaccines are less expensive at Costco than at other chain pharmacies.

Vaccines.gov

Try this vaccine finder tool on the Vaccines.gov website. Enter your zip code and it lists nearby locations where vaccines are available. In some cases, the price for the vaccine is included beneath the vaccine center’s name and address.

Dial 211

If you haven’t had any luck finding low-cost vaccines for adults using the above resources, try calling 211. This service provides referral information on health and social service resources in your local area, making referrals for everything from homeless shelters to vaccine centers.

For example, if your local YMCA hosts a flu-shot clinic each autumn, the people at 211 would know.

Physician’s Offices

Some physicians administer common adult vaccines to their patients. But unless you’re already in the physician’s office dealing with another health issue, this is unlikely to be the lowest-cost option for those without health insurance.

If you choose to get a price quote from your doctor’s office, make sure to inquire about vaccine administration charges and the office visit charge in addition to the cost of the vaccine itself.

Vaccine Manufacturers’ Patient Assistance Programs

Some pharmaceutical companies that make adult vaccines provide financial aid to uninsured adults who can’t afford vaccines. Eligibility for financial aid varies by company but is almost always income-based. Additionally, for some pharmaceutical companies, a doctor’s office or clinic will be needed to help you submit the financial aid application.

While using a pharmaceutical company’s financial aid program, use the brand name of the vaccine rather than the generic or common name to make your web searches easier.

Patient Assistance Programs

Health Insurance and Adult Vaccines

If you need several vaccines, especially if some of the vaccines you require are administered in a series of two or three shots over several weeks or months, you could be looking at costs of several hundred dollars or more.

Health insurance you buy through your state’s Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange must cover routine vaccines recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. This requirement also applies to individual market major medical plans purchased outside the exchange, employer-sponsored plans, and most student health plans offered by colleges and universities. There are two important caveats about using health insurance for adult vaccines:

  1. Routine Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) recommended vaccines must be covered without having to pay your deductible, copay, or coinsurance, but only if you get them from an in-network provider.
  2. Your health insurance doesn’t have to cover travel vaccines but might cover certain vaccines needed for travel. 

If you don’t have health insurance because you can’t afford it, you may be able to get help paying for health insurance. There are premium subsidies available to offset the cost of health insurance for people with modest incomes (up to 400% of the poverty level). And even if you enroll in the cheapest plan available in your area (which might have no premium at all, depending on your income), it will fully cover all ACIP recommended vaccines without any deductible, copay, or coinsurance.

In addition to the no-cost vaccines, this health insurance would also cover a full range of recommended preventive health care services without requiring deductibles, copays, or coinsurance.

Open enrollment for individual market health insurance (in the exchange or outside of the exchange) runs from November 1 to December 15 in most states, with coverage effective the first of the following year. Outside of that window, you'll need a qualifying event in order to sign up for coverage.

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Article Sources
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  5. Kaiser Health News. Retail clinics add convenience but also hike costs, study finds. Updated March 8, 2016.

  6. Federal Communications Commission. Dial 211 for essential community services. Updated December 31, 2019.

  7. Healthcare Finance. Pharmacies can administer vaccines at a lower cost that doctor's offices and medical clinics, study shows. Updated April 18, 2018.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACIP vaccine recommendations and guidelines. Updated July 16, 2013.

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  10. Fehr, Rachel; Cox, Cynthia; Rae, Matthew. Kaiser Family Foundation. How Many of the Uninsured Can Purchase a Marketplace Plan for Free in 2020? December 10, 2019.