The data is in and the COVID-19 vaccines are working. They have been injected into tons of people around the world after initial trials and have been found to be safe and effective. Each of the three available vaccines uses unique technologies to boost an immune response in your body, but none of these involve injecting a live virus into your arm. Basically, they can’t make you sick with COVID-19.
Vaccines, along with social distancing, masks and smart policy decisions regarding business reopening, will be our ticket out of this hellish mass experience. But getting a vaccine is tricky, and how to do it varies greatly depending on where you live.
States, territories and our one state-like district (DC) all have a great deal of freedom to establish their own COVID-19 policies and procedures. Advice and paths to a COVID-19 vaccine will differ depending on what part of the US you live in, but we’ve put together a guide that should give you an accurate overview of how to get the shot.
Step 1: Find your place in line
Some people are more likely to be eligible for a vaccine than others. The CDC has established guidelines about prioritizing certain groups based on age and occupation, but they are suggestions, not federal law. States make the final decision and prioritize groups of people in a slightly different way. You should check your own state’s guidelines, but we’ve summarized the CDC’s breakdown below, which should provide a rough guideline. In order from front of line to back of line:
- First group (1a): Healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.
- Second group (1b): People aged 75 and over, if not already in a long-term care facility. Also essential frontline jobs, such as firefighters, educators (including teachers, day nurses and support staff), supermarket workers, public transport workers, postal workers, food and farm workers, factory workers, police officers and correctional officers.
- Third Group (1c): People aged 65 to 74, if not already in a long-term care facility. People aged 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk for COVID-19. Also non-frontline essential workers, such as “people working in transportation and logistics, food service, housing and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety and public health,” according to the CDC.
- Fourth Group: Everyone else.
Absent from any CDC-derived guidance is mention of inmates, who are ripe for COVID-19 outbreaks due to tight quarters.
Step 2: Check your state’s rollout process
There is no federal or state centralized list you sign up for a vaccine on. Every state, territory, and freely associated state has application information available on the health department’s websites.
Here is a list of health department websites for each state:†
Some health department sites are more helpful than others, offering telephone hotlines, statewide sign up lists, and eligibility checks that will tell you if you can already get a vaccine, if you answer a few questions about your age, gender, occupation, and health conditions. Other states will only direct you to a list of vaccination providers that you can call yourself.
Step 3: Find places where you can get vaccinated
Check out VaccineFinder, built by Boston Children’s Hospital and the CDC, to find available vaccines near you and follow his twitter account for updates. Other places to check are:
- Physicians Practices, Hospitals and Urgent Care Centers
- A local health center
- State and local health departments. Find yours on the CDC’s Health Department’s Vaccine Finder or this list of links. Vaccination sites vary: these could be MLB and NFL stadiums, mobile clinics, convention centers, or public health clinics in cities.
- CVS, Walgreens, Costco, Walmart, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Albertsons and other pharmacies, stores and grocers may offer vaccinations through their own websites and processes. Texas-based HEB will also receive more doses. Target (in partnership with CVS), Winn-Dixie and Hy-Vee are also on the list to offer vaccinations.
Many vaccination sites operate by appointment. If there are sites that will text or email you when appointments are available, sign up for one or more of them.
A government-provided vaccination site, such as a health center or the public health department, may be a safer bet if you’re concerned about unexpected medical bills or don’t want to reveal your citizenship or immigration status. They are also usually free. In our research for this article, we found that many of them say on their websites that they do not ask for information about health insurance, proof of insurance, or immigration status. To be sure, check with your local facilities.