Putting off getting your flu shot or other vaccines because you don't have time for a doctor's appointment? The next time you pick up a few things at the drugstore or grocery store, consider updating your vaccinations at the pharmacy.

Pharmacists are trained in immunization technique and are well versed in how to administer shots, according to Carmen Catizone, D.Ph., executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

"In fact, today, more patients are receiving their vaccinations from pharmacists than other healthcare providers," says Catizone.

CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and other chains and some independent pharmacies offer more than the flu shot—they typically also administer other immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including vaccines against pneumonia, polio, shingles, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), and varicella (chicken pox).

In addition, many also offer travel immunizations for meningitis, typhoid, yellow fever, and other diseases.

An added perk: CVS, Walgreens, and other chains offer loyalty programs (it’s free to sign up) that earn you reward points towards discounts on other store purchases. Sign up online or at the pharmacy counter.

Tips for Getting Vaccinated at the Pharmacy

You'll no doubt remember if you're due for your annual flu shot. But for other vaccinations, it's a good idea to check with your physician about what immunizations are recommended for you based on your age and medical history.

Pharmacists in all states are allowed to administer a long list of vaccinations, but state laws vary—for example, you can't get hepatitis vaccines at the pharmacy in New York. Also, in some states, certain vaccines require a doctor's prescription. When in doubt, check with your pharmacist.

According to Catizone, the following tips can help getting your vaccinations at the pharmacy go smoothly:

  • Consider making an appointment. Most pharmacies don't require it, but it's a good idea if you need several vaccinations or want to avoid a wait. If you do drop in, choose a less busy time—not Monday morning or Friday afternoon, for example, when pharmacies tend to be bustling. You'll need to sign a consent form, which includes questions about your medical history and authorizes the release of information to your healthcare provider and insurers.
  • Don't leave right away. A needle stick can leave some people light-headed and, on rare occasions, can trigger allergic reactions. Wait for a couple of minutes to make sure you feel fine, and let the pharmacist know right away if you feel dizzy, nauseous, have trouble breathing, or experience any other symptoms.
  • Ask about side effects. Redness and soreness at the injection site are normal. Ask if there are any other common side effects you should be aware of, such as a fever.
  • Update your records. Ask to have the information forwarded to your primary care doctor to update your medical record.

Saving on Pharmacy Vaccinations

Just like at your doctor’s office, pharmacies that offer vaccinations will file with your insurance.

Many vaccinations won’t cost you anything if you have a private insurance plan through your employer or that you purchased on a state marketplace. Under the Affordable Care Act, private plans are required to fully cover the cost of recommended vaccinations for adults and children as preventive medical care.

Unfortunately, Medicare doesn’t do as good of a job of covering recommended immunizations. Only flu, pneumonia, and hepatitis B vaccines are fully covered under Medicare Part B. Other vaccinations are treated like prescription drugs and are covered under Medicare Part D or Advantage plans. That means you’ll be responsible for paying any co-pays and deductibles required by your prescription drug plan.

If you’re paying out of pocket, shop around to find the lowest price. When we checked, we found the lowest prices without insurance at Costco. For example, Pneumovax pneumonia vaccine cost $110 at CVS and Target, but just $97 at Costco pharmacies. And the dual Hepatitis A and B vaccine costs $145 at CVS, $150 at Walgreens ($142 if you belong to the prescription savings club), and $93 at Costco. 

Another option if you are uninsured or paying out of pocket is to check with statewide free health clinics and community health centers, which offer free or low-cost preventive care and low-cost vaccinations. Find a clinic near you.

Editor's Note: This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).