You know that your local pharmacist can offer info on prescription and over-the-counter medications. But have you considered how the folks in white coats can also boost your immune system?  

It might surprise you to learn that pharmacists have been providing vaccinations since the 1990s. That’s when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services endorsed a program that enlisted pharmacies in the battle against infectious diseases.   

From a consumer point of view, getting a vaccine at a pharmacy can make life easier. It can save you time and money. And research has found that pharmacies can help significantly improve adult vaccination rates.    

To get the scoop on how to best utilize your pharmacy for vaccines, we talked to Darrell Hulisz, PharmD. He’s an associate professor in the department of family medicine and community health at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.    

Question: Which vaccines can people get at a pharmacy?

Hulisz: Pharmacists are trained to give any vaccine recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes those that prevent COVID-19 and influenza (flu), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP), measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), polio, hepatitis A and B, human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis, pneumonia, shingles, chicken pox and others. 

That said, the laws and regulations vary by state. Some let pharmacists provide vaccines on their own, while others require a prescription from a doctor. And in some states, pharmacists are able to give vaccines only based on the CDC’s immunization schedule. In the past, many states had minimum patient age requirements, although that changed in August 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave pharmacists the legal authority to administer vaccines to kids ages 3 through 18. That helped lower the risk of outbreaks in daycare and school settings.   

To find the state- and site-specific rules where you live, your best bet is to contact your local pharmacist. Or you can do some digging yourself. The National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations offers information about state-specific laws. [Find it here.] 

Q: How much do routine vaccinations cost if you don’t have insurance?

Hulisz: Retail prices for vaccines may vary by state, manufacturer and even pharmacy. The flu shot typically costs around $40, for instance, while the 2-dose regimen of Shingrix (for shingles) is $324. [These numbers reflect what the CDC pays for vaccines. They’re not the exact price you’ll find, but they should give you a general sense of cost.]

Some manufacturers, such as Pfizer, offer cost-assistance programs. And people without insurance may have luck reaching out to their local health departments for assistance. [Note that if you do have health insurance, routine vaccinations are generally covered.] 

Did you know that different pharmacies charge different prices for medications, too? Download the Optum Perks app to find the best deals near you.

Q: Is there any additional risk in getting a vaccine at the pharmacy? 

Hulisz: No, but people who have experienced a severe allergic reaction should talk to their pharmacist before getting any new vaccine or an additional dose of a vaccine. Allergic reactions can include difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips or tongue or wheezing. The pharmacist should be able to tell you whether similar ingredients are in other vaccines. Take comfort that pharmacists are trained to handle reactions. Those who administer vaccines are required by law to have access to local emergency services. They also must keep their CPR certification current and have an EpiPen® or other epinephrine injection nearby to stop an allergic reaction fast.  

Epinephrine injections, which are often sold under the brand name EpiPen, can cost hundreds of dollars. Here’s how to save money on this lifesaving medication.

Q: Will the pharmacist send the vaccine record to your doctor? 

Hulisz: Upon request, the pharmacist or a staff member at the pharmacy can send the record of vaccine administration to your health care provider. Additionally, patients will get a record to take home and keep on file. But don’t let these steps slip through the cracks. Be sure to ask your pharmacist to give you an immunization card and/or to send the information to your primary care physician. 

You got your COVID-19 vaccine. Congrats! Does that mean it’s safe to travel? Learn more here.    

Q: Who shouldn’t get a vaccine? 

Hulisz: Patients who are immunosuppressed are usually ineligible to get live vaccines such as the one for yellow fever. These are people who may have an inherited immunodeficiency disease or an HIV infection. Or they may have recently had chemotherapy or be taking immunosuppressive medications. However, these people may be able to receive other inactive vaccines, such as the flu shot. And a mild illness such as a cold or sinus infection doesn’t prevent someone from receiving a vaccine.   

Q: What else should people know about getting a vaccine at the pharmacy?

Hulisz: Pharmacists can help patients figure out which vaccines they should receive and how to appropriately schedule them. We can also answer questions and talk people through their concerns. Ask your local pharmacist for the information that applies to you. They’ll have your insurance information handy. They know your state vaccine laws and can work with your medical provider when appropriate.  

Did you know that Optum Perks could save you money at more than 64,000 U.S. pharmacies? Download our app to access any coupon, anytime.