A Patient’s Guide to getting a flu shot at their pharmacy

     It’s that time of year again.  The weather finally starts to cool off a bit (I hope), school is back in session for those kids still in a more traditional school year schedule, and your local pharmacy is offering the wonderful flu shots again.  Let the fun begin as they say.  But in the spirit of helping out patients and a desperate attempt at making my life a little easier over the next several months I thought I would go over a few things for anyone that is thinking about getting a flu shot from their local pharmacy.   So here is a little guide so any consumer can be “in the know” when they walk up to the pharmacy counter for a flu shot.   

There could be restrictions on who can get the flu shot at your pharmacy.   Depending on which state you live in and what the rules and regulations are in that state pharmacists may only be allowed to give flu shots to adults and not children.  Don’t just assume your entire family can get one at the pharmacy and when  in doubt call the pharmacy ahead of time so you don’t “drag all the kids to the pharmacy” only to find out the parents are the only ones that will be allowed to get the shot.   Company policies and protocols may also restrict the age limit for this service so just check ahead of time to make sure everyone can get the shot. 

There is paperwork involved.  As I’ve said before to patients who asked about it “this is America” and there is paperwork for literally everything.  If I have to sign three things to authorize someone to change the oil on my car there is a good bet that you will have paperwork to fill out before someone is going to stick a needle in your arm for any reason at the pharmacy.  Don’t complain about it and just fill it out.  It really isn’t a big deal and it takes less time to fill out than it does to complain about it to the pharmacy staff.  The paperwork also includes very important questions like what your allergies are so please let us know all the information we ask for so everything goes smoothly.  There is also authorizations to sign so we can bill Medicare if that is your insurance so the paperwork we ask you to complete is a necessary evil. 

If you are really sick consider postponing your flu shot.   If you have the sniffles you are probably fine to go ahead and get the flu shot without any complications but if you are really sick, especially if a fever is involved, you might be better off waiting until you are a little less under the weather before getting that flu shot.  It won’t hurt to wait a few days or up to a week and recover from your illness before getting that flu shot.  And we really don’t need to have sick people coming to the pharmacy and getting in close contact with the pharmacy staff anyway.  I don’t want to get sick myself! 

We need your insurance information.  Many people use the pharmacy they already shop at for their prescriptions to get their seasonal flu shot.  In that case your current insurance information is already on file at the pharmacy.  Otherwise, we do need your insurance information to bill them for you to try and get  the flu shot fee covered.  Please just bring the information with you when you come in for your shot.  This will save you some time and allow us to bill your health insurance.  We also usually don’t know if it’s covered or not under your plan so unless you call your insurance ahead of time and already know about your coverage don’t ask us at the pharmacy because we honestly don’t know.   Even if you have to pay cash for your flu shot it is usually a very reasonable fee and it is well worth the price to try and avoid an illness like the seasonal flu. 

There is a wait involved.  Each pharmacy handles how they do flu shots differently.   Some stores have “clinic days” with separate staffing just to handle flu shots usually in a separate area away from the normal dispensing activity.  Some stores set up appointments for patients to walk in and have the normal pharmacy staff administer the shot.   And other pharmacies allow walk in patients with no appointment to come in and get a shot.   Whatever the policy is at your pharmacy there still will usually be a little wait time involved.  Usually you will be busy with a little paperwork anyway or you can shop while you wait but be prepared to wait a little while before getting your flu shot.  I once had a patient ask me if we gave flu shots at our pharmacy.  She was standing at the prescription drop off window.  When I said we did give flu shots she literally took a step back and pulled up her sleeve right there in the middle of aisle 10!  It doesn’t work that way everyone.  There will be a wait (and paperwork) involved with getting your shot! 

Pharmacists have been trained to administer the vaccine.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a patient go back into the counseling room to get a flu shot and they ask me the question “have you had training for this?”  Pharmacists go through training like nurses do to become certified to give vaccines such as the flu shot.  It is now even part of most pharmacy school’s curriculum to teach new pharmacists proper vaccination technique.  And most of us have done it for enough years that we’ve given literally hundreds or thousands of shots already in our career so we know what we are doing usually.  I know getting a shot isn’t a pleasant experience for most people but try to relax and realize that pharmacists are trained and more than capable to administer your flu shot. 

Tell us about your allergies, health conditions, and prescription medications.  It is important.   This is especially true if you don’t normally use the pharmacy that you are going to for your flu shot and it is the reason you must fill out paperwork to receive the shot.  We need to know what you allergies are so that we can maintain the highest level of safety and ensure that we aren’t giving you something that you will have an allergic reaction to after administration.  Allergy information is especially important for us including whether or not you have an allergy to things like eggs or latex.  There is always the slight possibility that something will go wrong with vaccine administration but knowing your health conditions and allergies will help us to eliminate as much of the risk involved as possible.  Safety is always priority one!

Tell your doctor you’ve received the shot or let us notify them for you.  Do you really want your primary care doctor attempting to give you another flu shot at your next checkup?  Probably not!  Be sure to notify your doctor you’ve had the seasonal flu vaccine so they can update your shot records.  Most pharmacies like the one I work at will do the notification for you so you don’t have to worry about it.  This will ensure that everyone’s records are up to date and you won’t run the risk of getting an accidental second shot from your physician. 

Inform the pharmacy of any reactions you might notice after receiving the shot.   Local reactions at the site of the vaccine are the most common problem that might occur  from vaccines such as the flu shot.  Let your pharmacy know about anything you notice unusual after receiving the flu shot just to be on the safe side.  We are always concerned with how patients tolerate the shot and we also review policies and procedures to ensure sterilization and safe practices are maintained at all times.  Letting us know if you have any reactions to the shot also gives us valuable feedback to pass along to the shot manufacturers to help minimize the risk of future problems in next year’s vaccine.   Also, hang around the pharmacy for a few minutes after you receive the shot to be positive you won’t have a reaction.  Always play it safe! 

You need the seasonal flu shot yearly.    Different strains of the flu are floating around the world each flu season.  The flu shot manufacturers attempt to update the flu shot to cover the most common strains of the flu they expect to affect the public in that given flu season.  This is why we must update the shot yearly and patients must receive a new shot each flu season.  For example, this year’s shot includes coverage against the H1N1 strain that was spreading across the country last year.   So just because you received a shot last year doesn’t mean you are covered for this flu season.  Get that seasonal flu shot yearly to make sure you are doing everything you can to prevent a major outbreak of the flu and to keep yourself healthy. 

     That is about it everyone.  I just want this flu shot season to go by as smoothly as possible for both the patients and the pharmacy staff.  Anyone is free to add any pointers or tips that I’ve omitted but I think I hit all the major topics.  I hope everyone gets their flu shot and I hope patients will heed the guidelines and suggestions I’ve listed above.  It will make the whole process that much easier for everyone involved.  Trust me! 

The Redheaded Pharmacist

4 Comments to “A Patient’s Guide to getting a flu shot at their pharmacy”

  1. By Frantic Pharmacist, September 8, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    Seriously? She pulled up her sleeve at the drop-off window? I don’t believe it. Wait a minute….. I do.


  2. By jenn, September 9, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

    I got mine last week but I didn’t know it included h1n1 this year..sweet!


  3. By BCMIGAL, September 9, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

    The flu shot takes 5 minutes, the paper work takes 20! And our company wants us to book up to 8 people per hour.
    How the heck is that supposed to work?!


  4. By lovinmyjob, September 19, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    I actually had a man drop his pants in our shot room. Seriously, that wasn’t something I wanted to see! This is great info, by the way. I also had an elderly man bring his wife in for a shot. She was running a fever, had had diarrhea for a few days and he also reported recent memory loss. He was furious when I refused to give her a shot! His response was that he would just go to another store and not give them that information. Unfortunately that’s the problem with having the vaccine so readily available; it makes it easier to by-pass safety precautions.


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