How to Get Free or Low-Cost Vaccines for Children

Strategies to Help Uninsured and Underinsured Families

Doctor giving patient a shot in office
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While childhood vaccinations have been the subject of much debate in recent years, most informed health professionals will tell you they are vital to a child's good health and development. Current U.S. guidelines suggest that children may receive up to 36 vaccines by the time they reach four, including their yearly flu vaccine and everything else recommended in the childhood immunization schedule.

Unfortunately, many of these vaccines (especially newer ones like Prevnar and the rotavirus vaccines) can be quite expensive, making it all the more difficult to immunize children who are uninsured. The same applies to underinsured children whose access may be restricted by annual caps, limitations, and high copayment costs.

In the end, no parent should be forced to choose between paying their rent or ensuring their child is properly immunized. Fortunately, there are a number of public and non-profit services designed to help low-income families access quality care at little to no cost.

How to Find Free Vaccines

It may surprise you that there are actually a great many places that offer free vaccinations to children. Some of these do charge a small administration fee ranging from $5 to $15 per vaccine or visit. Others waive the costs entirely for families who fall beneath a certain annual income threshold.

If your family is uninsured or underinsured, you can often access free vaccines from doctors who participate in the Vaccines for Children Program. This federally funded initiative is designed to provide vaccines at no cost to qualified clinics with the aim of distributing them to the children most in need.

Many municipal or county health departments also offer free vaccine programs, usually for those who make less than 200 to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Thresholds vary by state; check your local department for eligibility requirements.

If none of these options work for you, contact your child's school and ask about any immunization opportunities sponsored by local hospitals, churches, or non-profit organizations. Schools are often the first places to know. School nurses may also be able to help in making local inquiries on your behalf.

Become a Savvy Shopper

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total cost of vaccinations required for school entry can be as high $1,200 in some states. And that doesn't include the cost of a pediatric visit or the standard markup at your local pharmacy. Those kinds of costs would be considered excessive for most low- and middle-income Americans.

If forced to pay out of pocket, take the time to shop around, and ask if there are any discounts or alternatives for families who cannot afford to pay. Don’t be shy; this is what pharmacists are meant to do. And don’t assume that there is one price for a vaccine and one price alone.

Costs can vary dramatically, so take every opportunity to do comparative shopping.

There are a number of online tools that can help. One of the best is a free service called the HealthMap Vaccine Locator which not only tells you which vaccines you need but uses your zip code to locate all of the relevant clinics and pharmacies in your area. While retail pharmacies predominate the site, HealthMap does include an array of public clinics and health centers that offer free, low-cost, or afford-to-pay vaccination services.

Source:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "CDC Vaccine Price List." Atlanta, Georgia; updated May 1, 2017.

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