One of the most frustrating tasks for many of us these days is finding how and where to get an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination. It can be a real exercise in exasperation: the websites are often difficult to navigate and prone to frequent crashes; in addition, after finding an open appointment slot and filling out multiple pages of questions, you are often told that the opening has disappeared.
In view of all this, we’ve tried to gather as much helpful information as we can about ways to research and snag vaccination appointments for yourself and others. We’ll update this as more information presents itself.
Research the vaccination qualifications in your state
To begin with, it’s a good idea to try to pin down if you or the person you are assisting is currently qualified for the COVID-19 vaccine. Find the vaccine information site (or sites) that is being run by your state and / or city. This will also help you figure out when you might be qualified if you aren’t already. If you can’t find it via a quick search, NBC News has created a simple website that lets you find out what the current situation is in your specific state. Prescription company GoodRx offers similar information.
Find all the places that might offer appointments
There are, fortunately or unfortunately, many different sites where you can go to find out if you can get an appointment to be vaccinated.
For example, here in New York City, we’ve had to navigate separate sites run by the city and the state. Various hospital systems also have their own sites, as do pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS, which have recently begun offering appointments for vaccinations. It’s a lot to check — and it can be enormously confusing.
As a result, your first step is probably to check your state’s government health website (searching your state name and “COVID vaccine” will probably do it). If you’re an urban dweller, check for your city’s information site as well.
While most personal physicians do not have access to vaccines, your doctor may be able to tell you some of the places to check. Other resources include your local hospital system, your union (especially if your employment qualifies you for a vaccination), and, of course, friends and colleagues, many of whom have probably been doing their own searches.
As you find resources and sites, make sure to bookmark them. I keep a folder on my bookmarks bar called “COVID” — you may want to name yours something more cheerful.
Have all your information ready
Many of us who have tried to register for vaccination appointments have gone through the experience of filling out several screens of information only to find that, by the time we got to the end, the appointment was gone. So it’s a good idea to have all your data — such as your name, age, address, insurance info, and the registration ID / password for the site — immediately at hand. The faster you can go through the registration process, the more likely you are to actually get an appointment.
Verge colleague Cory Zapatka says that he highly recommends using a password manager if you have one. He created accounts with all the vaccination sites in his area, even if they didn’t have appointments available at the time, so that if / when the time came, he could just auto-fill and get in right away.
And if you do get an appointment, make sure you have the appropriate paperwork already handy — especially since available appointments can be last minute. Necessary paperwork could include proof of employment, proof of age, or proof of a qualifying condition. Since the last one may require a doctor’s note or other record, it’s a good idea to call your doctor now — or if you’ve got access to a doctor’s or hospital website, that may offer you access to the proof you need.
One more thing: check to see if you’ve gotten all the email that has been sent to you by your vaccine supplier. At least one staff member of The Verge found a necessary consent form hiding in her spam folder.
Watch for news of upcoming vaccination sites
Keep an eye on the news. More and more sites and hubs are being added as the US gears up for a stronger push. If you see a news item saying that a hub is about to open, find the site for the hub and keep checking — once it does open, the available slots will probably go quickly.
One thing that sometimes helps is to look for patterns in the appearance of new appointments. For example, when I heard that the pharmacy chain Walgreens was going to begin giving out vaccines in my area, I spent a couple of days going onto the site, and suddenly realized that there was a pattern: the company was only scheduling appointments two to four days in advance and was adding new appointments each day just after midnight. Once I understood the pattern, I was able to get appointments for a couple of friends, and let others know about it as well. (Note: since vaccine supplies and scheduling methods can change on a dime, this particular strategy may no longer work by the time you read this.)
Look for help online
There are a number of online resources popping up headed by developers and other technology-savvy folks who have taken the time and effort to try to make sense of this confusion. (Thanks to The Washington Post and The New York Times for some of these listings.)
- A NYC site called TurboVax pulls “the latest appointments from 43 city and state-run vaccine sites in the NYC area” and puts them on Twitter. Followers who set their Twitter notifications for @turbovax can quickly find out about newly opened appointment slots.
- Another called NYC Vaccine List uses a combination of scripts and checks by volunteers to scour various sites for openings.
- In California, VaccinateCA checks pharmacies and hospitals for information about open appointments.
- Vaccinate NJ also uses volunteers to try to help state residents find vaccine opportunities.
- Covid 19 Vaccine TX is a crowdsourced resource for registering with local counties and finding locations where vaccines may be available.
- The MA Covid Vaccine Appointments site offers lists of and links to sites with available appointments
By the way, if you’re a developer and / or coder who wants to help, check out US Digital Response, an independent organization which, according to its website, “connects experienced, pro-bono technologists with local government and non-profit organizations responding to crisis.”
If you can, help others
One of the worst things about the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines is that those who need it the most are often the least likely to be able to navigate the technology required to get an appointment: older people, differently abled people, or those who don’t have or can’t afford computers and / or internet connections.
If you have the time and talent, reach out to anyone you know who may not be able to get an appointment on their own. This could be as simple as finding phone numbers they can call to try to schedule an appointment, going online and getting an appointment for them, or helping them get to and from the vaccination site.
You could also see if there are any groups that are organizing help. The West Side Rag, for example, reports that a group of New Yorkers created the Vaccine Appointment Assistance Team (VAAT) to help their non-technically-savvy neighbors navigate the process. (At the time this was written, because of low supplies of vaccine, VAAT had temporarily suspended their services.)
Look for leftover vaccine
While the vaccines can last for six months while they’re kept frozen, once thawed and refrigerated, the Pfizer vaccine will last five days while the Moderna vaccine will last for 30 days. As a result, when people don’t show up for their appointments, some centers will offer vaccinations to those who may not immediately qualify rather than waste vaccines that would otherwise be rendered unusable.
However, running to a nearby pharmacy or vaccine hub in the hit-and-miss hopes that there will be some shots waiting at the end of the day isn’t the most effective way to be vaccinated. (Besides, getting hypothermia while waiting in the cold isn’t going to help.) At least one group is trying to ameliorate the situation: a pilot project called Vaccination Standby says that it will monitor providers around the US for word of extra doses and text notifications to those whose zip codes are near the site.
There are also local organizations that are offering standby lists. For example, Buncombe County in North Carolina has a vaccination waitlist and standby list, as does the Monroe County Health Department in Indiana. Check your local government site to see if there’s one in your area.
Yes, it’s frustrating as hell, but keep at it. If a website crashes, try again. If you’re dropped from a phone call, call again (and have a game, video, or book ready to keep yourself occupied while you’re on hold). If you can’t find anything during working hours, try late at night or very early in the morning.
Persistence may be one of the most important aspects to getting an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination. You may be tempted to give up, especially after hitting the “no appointments available” wall time and time again. But until vaccine production is ramped up enough to cover more of our population, and until distribution becomes more organized and easier to manage, simple stubbornness may be your best tool.
And hopefully this article, and all the advice it contains, will soon be unnecessary.