The end is near. Almost.
With the pandemic in place since early 2020, life hasn’t been the same for most people. But it seems there is finally (hopefully) a light at the end of the tunnel with the creation of several safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time. The goal is to have the U.S. adult population vaccinated before the end of the summer. The question is, when and how will you actually be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
And remember, even though the release of the vaccine was rapid, the development and safety went through the normal process to get approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Lining Up to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
In an ideal world, everyone who wants a vaccine would be able to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment as soon as they were available. However, the reality is much more calculated. Because of limited vaccine supply, public health experts developed priority groups to vaccinate those who were most vulnerable.
The earliest groups for vaccine eligibility include:
- Citizens over 65
- Individuals living in nursing homes
- Frontline healthcare workers (doctors, nurses)
- People with chronic illnesses (diabetes, autoimmune diseases, heart disease)
- Essential workers (police, firefighters, people working in agriculture and food service)
This is just a short list of the vaccine criteria. You should check your state and local health department website to learn who is eligible at any given time in your area. If you meet the eligibility criteria in your area, you can go ahead and schedule an appointment.
New categories are being added every couple of weeks, so pay attention to your local news and health department website for updates.
Time to Roll
It’s finally your turn! Once you are eligible, the first place you should go to is the online website of your local or state department of health. They will have all of the most up-to-date resources, including official websites and phone numbers you can call to get more information or to make an appointment, if you need to. You can also talk to your doctor or healthcare facility about the vaccine opportunities at their offices.
Some places where you may be able to check for vaccine appointments include:
- Pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS
- Small specialty clinics
- Department stores with in-store pharmacies, such as Walmart
- Grocery stores with in-store pharmacies
- Large vaccine “super sites” at stadiums and parking lots
Remember: Some websites release new appointment slots at a certain time or day, so consider setting an alarm in order to have a better chance of securing that jab.
What Does the Vaccine Cost?
If you’re worried about having to pay for the vaccine, don’t sweat it. The U.S. government has stated that any individual can get the vaccine for free.
What to Expect When You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
Carve out time for your vaccination. There may be delays when you arrive at the site, so try not to make plans for after your appointment. You might be in and out quickly, or there may be a long line—it depends on the location.
You’ll also have to stick around for around 15 to 20 minutes after your dose. This is to make sure you don’t get any early reactions (which are rare). If you do have any reaction (which is rare), a medic will be able to provide the appropriate care. There is a range of mostly mild side effects some people experience within the first 48 hours of the shot, but then resolve on their own.
If you have any questions about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your primary care doctor to clear up any doubts. Even once you’re vaccinated, it’ll take some time for things to fully get back to normal, so don’t let your guard down. Everyone has to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.
Tamara Moise, MD, is an emergency medicine physician at Big Apple Medical Urgent Care.
- Vaccines & Immunizations. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 2021. (Accessed April 1, 2021)
- Vaccines for COVID-19. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 2021. (Accessed April 1, 2021)
- Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 2021. (Accessed April 1, 2021)