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You need a flu shot this year. Here’s a guide to help you find one in Colorado.

Health officials are urging everyone to get a flu vaccine this year to limit the strain on hospitals from a potential flu-coronavirus double whammy

Three-year-old Dylan Scully of Lakewood receives a kids’ influenza vaccination from Kaiser Permanente registered nurse Amy Roscoe, right, while visiting a Kaiser Permanente outdoor flu vaccination center in Ken Caryl with his brother Kellen, 6, and their mother, Jennifer Scully, left, on Friday, September 18, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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If there’s one thing health leaders across Colorado want you to do right now it’s to go get a flu shot.

“It’s time to check off the flu shot on your to-do list,” Dr. Eric France, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s chief medical officer, said last week.

During a relatively typical flu season last year, more than 3,500 people in the state were hospitalized, and last year saw more than 400 deaths in the state due to the flu or pneumonia, according to CDPHE figures. With worries that cases of COVID-19 could rise in the coming months — winter is when respiratory viruses like the flu or coronavirus are at their worst — France and others say that a bad flu season could combine with coronavirus to wreak havoc in the state’s hospitals.

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
  • TESTINGHere’s where to find a community testing site. The state is now encouraging anyone with symptoms to get tested.
  • VACCINE HOTLINE: Get up-to-date information.

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Hence the big push for flu shots this year to snuff out any chance for overlapping epidemics. Last year, only about 50% of all adults and 70% of kids in Colorado got vaccinated against the flu

“If there’s one year to get your flu shot if you haven’t gotten it in prior years, this is the year to get it,” Dr. Sean O’Leary, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, echoed.

But, as with most things in the health care system, this is easier said than done.

France said he is expecting there will be plenty of flu vaccine to go around this year — manufacturers produced more than normal and some clinics have made extra-large orders in anticipation of unusually high demand. But that doesn’t mean individual locations won’t run out, and then you also have to take into account cost and insurance coverage when searching for a place to get stuck with a needle.

To help, we have put together this choose-your-own-adventure-style guide to finding a flu shot in Colorado. Flu season can kick off in the state as early as November, so health officials say this month is the critical time to get your shot. Clock’s ticking.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

 

Do you want to get your shot for free?

Because it’s considered a preventative treatment, flu shots are available for free with almost all types of insurance. And there are options for free shots for people without insurance. But sometimes convenience rules the day, so there is also the option of paying a fairly small amount out of pocket to get a shot without worrying about insurance. The pharmacy chain CVS, for instance, offers regular flu shots for about $40 and high-dose flu vaccines (available only to those 65 and older) for about $70. Shots at other retail locations are generally in the same ballpark.

So, do you want to…

 

Select your type of insurance

All health insurance plans that are compliant with the Affordable Care Act, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, will cover flu shots with no cost to you. But using that benefit could also limit where you go to get your shot. Select the type of insurance you have to continue.

Do you have…

 

Private insurance

More than half the state is covered by some form of private insurance, so this is where most people looking for a flu shot will land. As with all other services covered by insurance companies, you need to be mindful of what is in-network and what is out-of-network in your plan. If you go to a place that is out-of-network, you could find yourself on the hook for a bill for your shot.

People covered by Kaiser Permanente, for instance, will likely need to get vaccinated at a Kaiser facility to stay in-network. Nicholas Roper, a Kaiser spokesman, said the company has enough vaccine this year to cover all of its members and has switched to a no-appointment-needed walk-in system for flu shots. He said there also is an option to check in for a shot and then wait in your car until it’s your turn. Log into your account on KP.org to learn more.

Other insurance companies might have more flexible networks. Vince Plymell, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Insurance, said chain pharmacies that offer flu shots — like CVS, Walgreens, King Soopers and others — are often in-network for some of the state’s larger insurance carriers. To know for sure, you need to check with your insurance and find the in-network location that’s most convenient for you.

One more thing to keep in mind: Plymell said people who go to their doctor’s office for another reason and also get a flu shot while there can sometimes find themselves confused when they get a bill, even though the doctor is in-network. The charge there would be for the other stuff done during the office visit, not the vaccine, he said. Just because a visit includes a flu shot doesn’t mean everything in the visit is free.

So, do you want to…

 

Medicare

Whether you have Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage, you can get one flu shot a year at no cost to you. You just have to go to a place that accepts Medicare.

Typically, this will mean starting at your regular doctor’s office. But, if you don’t have a doctor or want to go somewhere else, you’ll need to search around and then check with Medicare or your Medicare Advantage carrier to see if that location is covered.

So, do you want to…

 

Medicaid

Medicaid in Colorado — also known as Health First Colorado — covers flu shots at no cost to you, as does the CHP+ insurance program for kids. But, as with other types of insurance, there are some locations that do not accept this coverage. The starting point here will be your regular doctor’s office.

If you do not have a regular doctor or if you want to go somewhere else, Marc Williams, a spokesman for the state department that oversees Medicaid, said the department’s advice is for people first to call the pharmacy or clinic they intend to visit to double-check that they accept Medicaid.

So, do you want to…

 

Uninsured

No insurance? No worries. The state has doses of flu vaccine it sets aside specifically for children and adults who are uninsured, said Heather Roth, CDPHE’s immunization branch chief. Flu shots provided through this program are available for free.

Only certain providers are enrolled in the program, though. To find one that can offer you a free shot, go to this page on CDPHE’s website: www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/find-free-vaccine-provider

Or, if you have the money, you can choose to pay out of pocket at any place offering flu shots.

So, do you want to…

Search for a flu shot

Kellen Scully, 6, of Lakewood receives a kids’ influenza vaccination from Kaiser Permanente registered nurse Amy Roscoe while visiting a Kaiser Permanente outdoor flu vaccination center in Ken Caryl with his 3-year-old brother and their mother, Jennifer Scully, on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

If you are looking for the closest flu shot — or the closest shot of any number of other vaccines — the website VaccineFinder.org has you covered.

Once on the site, click “Find Vaccines.” That takes you to a search page where you can select the vaccines you are searching for — there are several options for flu vaccines, but most adults will want to select “Flu Shot (18+)” — enter your address or ZIP code and select how far you are willing to travel.

Flu vaccine ships out in waves and this site updates regularly, so some providers currently not offering the flu vaccine may get more in stock in the coming days. Keep checking back if you’re coming up empty. The site also currently has this notice: “Flu vaccine is available at locations across the U.S. Vaccine providers are actively working to update flu vaccine availability on our website. At this time, some locations may show no flu vaccine available — even when supplies are in place. Please call a location near you to confirm availability.”

The site offers some details on whether a location accepts insurance or requires appointments. But it’s always best to call ahead to check on the details and what a shot will cost if the location is not covered by your insurance.

So, do you want to…

 

Congratulations!

Three-year-old Dylan Scully of Lakewood high-fives Kaiser Permanente registered nurse Amy Roscoe, right, after he and his mother Jennifer Scully, left, received influenza vaccinations at a Kaiser Permanente outdoor flu vaccination center in Ken Caryl on Friday, September 18, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

You just navigated your way through the not-as-easy-as-it-sounds process of finding a flu shot. In the coming months, remember to wear a mask and practice what health officials call good hand hygiene — that means washing regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds and trying at all other times not to touch your face. Stay healthy out there.


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