It's that time of year again: flu season is coming. Did you know the flu shot is available for free to most military members, their families and veterans?
What Exactly Is The Flu Shot?
We call it the flu shot, but really is a vaccination that can be given in many ways. The vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after given. These antibodies provide protection against the viruses in the vaccine. The vaccine given in the U.S. protects against three different versions of the flu. There are also some vaccines that protect against four different strains of the flu.
Every year the World Health Organization consults with health officials across the globe to learn which versions of the flu are circulating in each country, and based on this data and other studies recommend which strains of the flu are most likely to hit during flu season. This must be done at least six months in advance since it takes a long time to develop specific vaccines.
Sometimes the experts are caught off-guard and a different version of the flu appears out of nowhere to sicken people. Over the years though, the flu vaccine has had a success rate averaging at around 60 percent. Getting the vaccination can also lessen the symptoms of the flu and assist you in getting over the flu an average of one to two days faster than someone who doesn't get the vaccine.
The flu vaccine was first used on -- you guessed it -- the military. During the 1940's the military developed the first approved vaccine for the flu which was used during the World War II.
How Can You Get The Flu Vaccine?
While we call it the flu "shot", there are actually many ways you can get the vaccine:
- The standard dose flu shot, this is administered into the muscle with a needle. There are also versions that can be given to some people with a jet injector
- Special high-dose shots, or shots with added medicines for older people
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) -- or the nasal spray vaccine
Should You Get The Flu Shot?
While that is a personal choice, here's what the statistics say.
- In 2017 there were 80,000 flu related deaths in the U.S., the highest death toll in at least four decades
- In 2017, more than 12,000 people over 65 died from the flu
- In 2017 there were 900,000 people hospitalized from the flu
- Those most at risk for developing complications from the flu are the pregnant, the very young and old, and those with underlying conditions
How To Get The Flu Shot For Free
If you have Tricare, you can get the vaccine for free in three ways:
- At a military hospital or clinic - you should call ahead to make sure it is available, active duty personnel have priority
- At a participating network pharmacy - you can find one by searching online or calling 877-363-1303. You should call the pharmacy first to ask when you can get the vaccine, and who gives the vaccine. Only vaccines given by a pharmacist are covered. If your vaccine is administered by a provider at an onsite clinic, it may not be covered and you may have to pay the entire cost
- At your primary care provider - you may have to pay the office visit copay
Remember, all active duty and Guard or reserve members are required to get the flu vaccine.
The VA is also partnering with Walgreens to offer eligible veterans free flu shots at the 8,200 local Walgreens locations nationwide. Just go to the local Walgreens, tell the pharmacist you are an eligible veteran and want to get your flu shot.
You just have to show them your VA Health ID Card and another form of photo ID to get the shot for free. Walgreens will even automatically add the information to your VA health record.
If you aren't enrolled in VA healthcare, your insurance may offer flu shots for free, or for a small fee. Check with your insurance company for details.
Medicare Part B covers 100 percent of the cost of a flu shot as well.
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