5 things to know about vaccines

  @Money December 7, 2012: 5:41 AM ET
hed hypodermic needle

It's not too late to get your flu shot -- peak flu season has yet to arrive.

(Money Magazine)

With reports that the flu season has started early this year -- and that it could be worse than last year -- it pays to get vaccinated.

Here are five reasons why you should consider getting the flu shot and other vaccines.

1. You may need more than you think

About 40% of us are inoculated against the flu each year. But you may not realize you also need periodic boosters for whooping cough and tetanus, among others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, just 8% of adults were inoculated against whooping cough between 2005 and 2010.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is in the midst of the worst whooping cough epidemic in 50 years, sickening nearly 30,000 so far.

Not sure what you need? See cdc.gov/vaccines for a list.

2. Missing shots can impose a high cost

Contracting a major illness like pneumonia or whooping cough puts you at risk for an expensive hospital stay. Yet even a bout of the flu can be costly in terms of co-payments for doctor visits, prescription medications, and lost workdays.

Related: Money saving strategies for your health

A recent study by the National Business Group on Health found that healthy immunized adults had up to 44% fewer doctor visits and missed 18% to 45% fewer workdays during flu season vs. those who skipped the shots.

3. For most, vaccines are cheap

Thanks to health reform, you probably won't be charged for a vaccine at your doctor's office. (Some insurance plans are excepted from this rule, and you may still have to pay for the office visit.)

Related: The controversy over Medicare reform

For seniors, Medicare covers vaccines for the flu, pneumonia, and hepatitis B for free, but other vaccines can still be pricey. The shingles vaccine, for example, runs an average of $57 in copayments, though some seniors pay well over $100.

4. A doctor's visit isn't necessary

Many who get their vaccines cite convenience as a reason, says Carolyn Bridges, associate director for adult immunization at the CDC.

Buffett on 'runaway' health care costs

You probably don't need to go out of your way. Many large companies offer free onsite flu shots (ask your HR department).

You can also get most common vaccines at major pharmacies and retailers such as Wal-Mart. Your in surer may reimburse you for the cost (about $30 for the flu and $50 to $100 for other vaccines).

5. There's no excuse for skipping the flu shot

If shots make you faint, you may better tolerate the new intradermal, which uses a needle that's 90% smaller than a regular one (if you have to pay for the shot, it's pricier). Many adults can also get a flu vaccine via nasal spray.

Related: Check out of the hospital and stay out

Moreover, even if you've dragged your feet, you're definitely not too late: "January to March is usually peak flu season," says Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group. To top of page

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