The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are giving people hope that there's a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. But the vaccine rollout has been confusing, to say the least. Former President Trump’s distribution plan largely relied on states to coordinate with the CDC and roll it out.
Every state is handling things differently and has different ground rules for who can get vaccinated when. Add to that, a complicated online system and a large population trying to claim limited spots. And you've got...a bunch of people scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to actually get a vaccine.
Here are your guidelines for how to navigate the vaccine process...
Step One: Take a deep breath. This process is frustrating.
Step Two: Make sure you have your state ID or proof of residency and health insurance info available.
Step Three: Check your state's department of health website to find out what their distribution plan is and if you're eligible to receive the vaccine. And here's the CDC's phased approach that many states are using as a guideline:
Phase 1a: Health care workers and residents of long-term facilities (think: senior homes).
Phase 1b: Front-line workers (think: police, firefighters) and people over 75.
Phase 1c: More essential workers (think: restaurant workers, IT, media). People 65-74 years old. And people under 64 with underlying medical conditions.
Phase 2: Everyone else.
Note: Your state's health department will likely have more specific info about who qualifies for each phase there.
Step Four: There should be a list or link of available vaccine sites in your state. These are typically local hospitals and medical centers, as well as some pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and ShopRite. Also, some states (like New Jersey and Texas) have vaccine megasites set up at malls, convention centers, and sports stadiums.
Start by reaching out to the ones in your county. Not every state requires that you get the vaccine in the county you live in. So double-check your state's rules and expand your range if you’re not finding availability near you.
Step Five: If you find an opening, book it. Slots book quickly, so go in knowing what time frames you can or can’t do and be ready to act when you see an open slot.
Once you have your appointment booked, there are a couple of things to know:
Bring your insurance card and proof of eligibility to your appointment. This may be a work ID if you’re a front liner or essential worker, or just a state ID that shows your date of birth.
After you get your first vaccine shot, you’ll receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you: which vaccine you received, the date you got it, and where you received it. Keep it. You’ll need this for your next appointment. (Remember: the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines require two doses.)
Pfizer-BioNTech = 3 weeks after your first shot.
Moderna = 1 month after your first shot.
Don’t forget to book your second appointment. You should be able to make it directly with the service you got the first shot from. Try to set that up before you leave.
Some people have reported getting mild side effects (think: flu-like symptoms) after receiving the vaccine. Note the CDC says these side effects are a normal part of your body reacting to the vaccine and typically go away in a few days. If you are experiencing severe side effects, make sure to call your primary care doctor.
Side note: if you have severe allergies you may want to check-in with your doctor before starting the vaccine process. There have been reports of allergic reactions to both US-approved vaccines – although this is considered to be rare.
The vaccine has a short shelf-life after the vial is opened (only six hours) so when people don't show for their appointments, health care providers are left with extra vaccine doses at the end of the day. Meaning: if you get contacted by the vaccine site you booked or were on a standby list and they ask if you're able to get there asap for your dose...that's why.
Experts are suggesting that the majority of the US population will be vaccinated by the end of summer. But the reality of making that happen is tricky. So have patience. And keep on masking on.
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