So You're Finally Eligible For A COVID-19 Vaccine. Now What?
Starting April 15, any Californian 16 and up will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But, being eligible and getting an appointment are two different things. So, what can you do to make the search easier?
After I learned I qualified for a vaccine, I was on the web and on the phone for weeks. I followed every rumor, dialed all kinds of hotlines, and even drove with my partner to his vaccination site — only to be rejected each time. Once it was because a clinic was too overwhelmed with demand. Another time? Wrong zip code. But usually, it was because there just were never any appointments available.
Finally, after nearly three weeks, I got lucky. A colleague texted me out of the blue. Her message read, “Hey! I heard Walgreens has appointments!” And I got one.
But, in between my first and second doses, I found myself asking, 'could I have navigated the process more smoothly?' It definitely would have saved me time, stress, and possible COVID-19 infection.
Mary Masella, a family nurse practitioner who works at La Clinica in East Oakland, has heard from a lot of people like me.
La Clinica is a community-based health clinic that operates over 30 locations around the Bay Area. At first, they only offered appointments to patients 75 and older, but eventually, they were allowed to start administering doses to the public as supplies increased.
"We are one of the sites that got approved to offer vaccines, so at that point, we began to open it up to the community," Mary explains.
Now that vaccine supplies are expected to significantly increase in the coming weeks, vaccine eligibility is expanding right along with it. Governor Gavin Newsom says the state is preparing to take away existing tiers and open eligibility to all residents by April 15.
This means, if you’ve been waiting, it might finally be your turn. But, as I learned, eligibility does not equal easy access to an appointment.
There are still people in Phase 1B trying to get an appointment. People like Seamus Gibney, a professional chef, who’s a Kaiser Permanente member.
"I do check every couple of days to see if something's opened up," Gibney says. "This morning I got another email that said, 'Hey, your eligibility is here. Get an appointment.' So I am actually currently in line. Virtually, I am number 3,444."
So, if your journey is anything like those of us in Phase 1B, what should you expect and how can you prepare?
First, register with the state’s site, MyTurn, and check out the vaccine notification options for your county and city on their websites. You can also call 2-1-1, the hotline for essential community services. Every county has this hotline. Once you’re connected to a support specialist, they can help determine things like, if you live in a high-priority zip code.
These are areas being prioritized for appointments because they were hit hard by COVID-19. The person I spoke to at Alameda County’s 211 says they can even arrange a free ride to vaccine appointments for people who don’t have cars or access to public transport.
After you’ve tried those, Nurse practitioner Mary Massella has some other suggestions, like getting on the waitlist La Clinica maintains. She says, "If there’s ever availability, we’ll open it up and they’ll get a message about it."
Plus, community health organizations like La Clinica are set up to help people who speak different languages navigate the appointment process.
Mary tells me, "We have a whole team of people who are dedicated to be able to pick up the phone and help them with the registration process. If they need additional help actually filling out demographics and stuff, we have people at the vaccine sites that are able to do that for them.
She also suggests getting on waitlists run by other community clinics. If you’re worried about being on too many waitlists and possibly letting vaccines go to waste, Mary says, "That hasn’t been the issue. I mean clearly we have a lot of interest, so we have that mechanism in place to be able to open up waitlists for people to come in and get vaccinated."
Mary also says to make sure you’re checking lots of places giving the vaccine. She says, "Keep trying every source, like the Coliseum, community clinics, CVS, Walgreens. Find out if there's vaccine sites within your area and just keep at it."
The CDC recommends using their web tool VaccineFinder.org to search for vaccines where you live. You can search by city, or plug in your zip code.
"Don’t be afraid to rely on your community for support. Ask your community about where they’ve gotten a vaccine and see how you can get in there, and talk to somebody who can guide you."
And if the process gets confusing or frustrating, Mary suggests, "Don’t be afraid to rely on your community for support. Ask your community about where they’ve gotten a vaccine and see how you can get in there, and talk to somebody who can guide you."
In other words, let your friends and family know you’re looking. That’s why my colleague texted me.
With so many people becoming eligible at the same time, some vaccine providers, like Kaiser Permanente, are trying to manage expectations, sending emails to members about how their supply doesn’t currently match eligibility. If a couple of weeks pass and there are still no appointments available, Mary offers this advice:
"Keep trying! Don’t give up. I promise you vaccine availability is going to be here. I think it’s a matter of weeks, honestly, in terms of being able to fully vaccinate our general population here in the Bay Area. There are very hard concentrated efforts that are being done."
"This vaccine is our salvation ... our gateway to getting out of this pandemic and resuming the lives that we used to have."
Lastly, whenever you may be just about ready to give up and stop your search, Mary says, "remember why you’re doing this."
"This vaccine is our salvation," says Mary. "They are our gateway to getting out of this pandemic and resuming the lives that we used to have, getting back to work, getting our children back to school, being able to hold and love one another in ways that we are going to be so much more grateful for."
In the meantime, Mary says, keep wearing your mask, washing your hands, and social distancing.