Ready To Get The COVID Vaccine? Here's How To Book It In Your State

Feb 18, 2021
Originally published on April 20, 2021 10:41 am

Updated April 20, 2021 at 10:56 AM ET

Updated April 20, 3:40 p.m. ET

Eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine has rapidly expanded in recent weeks. As of April 19, everyone over age 16 is eligible to get vaccinated in every state. But how are you supposed to sign up?

The answers vary by place, so NPR created a tool to guide you through the process in your state and connect you with local resources. And we're sharing advice for navigating the system below.

Search for your state below. (There are a few large cities with their own immunization plans that you'll find on our list as well.)

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Please note that the information in this tool is subject to change, as states roll out new processes and new providers get the vaccine. Always check with your state health department for the latest guidance.

Advice for navigating a patchwork system

It helps to understand how the system works as you set out to get the vaccine. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you proceed.

1. Understand the big picture. As you try to navigate the vaccine system in your state, be aware that there are often multiple points of entry for those seeking a vaccine. Although the federal government pays for and distributes the vaccines, it's up to state and local health departments and the private sector — hospitals, clinics and pharmacies — to actually schedule and give out the shots.

In many states, the different systems don't talk to one another. So when it's your turn to get signed up for a shot, you may need to look for available appointments in all of these separate streams, depending on your state.

2. Keep an eye on pharmacies. In addition to sending vaccines to states, the government is sending vaccines directly to chain pharmacies through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which launched in early February.

Find out which pharmacies in your area are giving out vaccines by using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's VaccineFinder tool, which launched Feb. 24. VaccineFinder is designed to show up-to-date information about which local pharmacies have doses in stock, and you may be able to book an appointment online, directly with the pharmacy, depending on your state.

3. Remember that the vaccine is free. You can get it at no cost if you don't have insurance. If you are insured, your insurance plan has to cover the costs of administering the shot. Make sure to have your health insurance info handy when looking for an available slot in case that information is needed to register.

4. Be patient and persistent. In some places, there still aren't enough doses are available for everyone who is eligible, so you might have to persevere.

It can certainly be frustrating: Hotlines can be jammed. Sign-ups can fill up the minute they open. Providers don't always schedule second doses, leaving people who succeeded in getting an initial appointment to scramble to set up their second dose within the recommended window.

If you're feeling exasperated, remember that because of the patchwork nature of the system, local health departments don't have all the answers.

"They don't universally have access to the systems that tell you where vaccine is within their jurisdiction," explains Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

5. Look for local advice. Some tips that can help you find a slot are specific to a local area or state. You can find local guides from the media or places like the AARP and GoodRx. Follow your state and local governments on social media for specific tips related to where you live and maybe news about mass vaccination sites opening up with available slots.

Also search for Vaccine Hunting Facebook groups — like this one in South Florida or this one in Oklahoma — and other local volunteer efforts that have sprung up to try to help folks navigate all of this.

Some states, like California, are hosting mass vaccination sites. In addition, state and local health departments, as well as select medical centers and pharmacies, are giving out shots in many places.
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images

Is a better system coming?

The vaccine distribution patchwork is not easy to fix because it's a reflection of the patchwork health care system, a mix of public providers like health departments and private providers like hospitals and clinics that don't always play nice together.

"I can't tell you how complicated it is to have a federally financed vaccine being distributed through a state-based system, with a health care system that's private sector based," says Claire Hannan, who runs the Association of Immunization Managers. "These three things are completely separate and operate in their own kingdoms. So, trying to marry all of this and to track it in real time with data connections? It's incredible that we are where we are."

A central promise of the Biden administration was to offer more assertive federal leadership over the COVID-19 public health response. In remarks on March 11, President Biden said his administration would launch new tools "to make it easier for you to find the vaccine and where to get the shot, including a new website that will help you first find the place to get vaccinated and the one nearest you." In mid-April, the Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to NPR's request for an update on how that will work and when it might go live.

Audrey Carlsen designed and developed this look-up tool; Rhitu Chatterjee, Deborah Franklin, Maria Godoy, Richard Harris, Pien Huang, Kristen Kendrick, Rosemary Misdary, Yuki Noguchi, Akilah Wise, Julia Wohl and Carmel Wroth contributed research and reporting.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have help this morning for people who have trouble finding doses of vaccine. If you are in one of the priority groups who should be getting the COVID vaccine now and you've struggled to find out where and how, this is for you. It's a webpage at npr.org with directions for people in all 50 states. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin was part of the team that developed it and is on the line. Selena, good morning.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Obviously, some people are really struggling with this. Once they reach out to a place, they're out of vaccine. They don't even know where to call at the beginning. So what is this webpage?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So this is a tool where you can look up your state and understand a bit more about how the vaccine distribution is set up and where you need to go to figure out where to get a shot. So the first step that it walks you through is to make sure you're eligible. The second is to check to see if there's a state or local public health registry, because those can sometimes get you an appointment or put you on a waitlist. And then third, you've got to check to see if there are private providers in your area that may be giving out vaccines, like health systems or clinics. Those often have their own sign-up systems. And for this, we included provider maps and lists and linked to those. So after all of that, we included a hotline number to call if you need help and links to FAQ and local news coverage that may be helpful, too.

INSKEEP: I imagine a lot of people would wish there was just one phone number or one webpage they could go to in their given state. It's not that simple. But at least, I suppose, they can go to NPR's one page and find information.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, exactly. Public health departments, hospitals and pharmacies just don't talk to each other. That's basically the issue. So this is a way to kind of break those things down. So if you want to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, you understand how these things are separate. And you know where to look. So do you want to try? Do you want to look a state up?

INSKEEP: Yes, I would love to. And let's try my home state of Indiana. I don't live there. But I have lots of relations, seniors who are there now. My mom's already been vaccinated, maybe some others haven't. So we go to the state, Indiana.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes, Indiana.

INSKEEP: How to get the vaccine in Indiana?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Right.

INSKEEP: And it goes through the steps that you mentioned, checked whether it's your turn. And apparently, there's a number in Indiana, a special number, 211.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That you can call if you need help. Yeah, that's right. The other thing about Indiana is it does have kind of a central registration tool that you will find a link to. And it has a map of vaccine sites by county. So that's handy because there are sites that you can see on the map that don't use the central registration system. They have their own numbers and their own webpages. So you can spend some time clicking around on the map and see if there are providers near you that you might be able to reach out to directly.

INSKEEP: OK. This is really great. It helps people cut through some of the chaos or what must feel like chaos to people looking for shots. Although, we have to be clear, just because you find where to get the shot doesn't mean that they will have a shot.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Absolutely true. There is way more demand than there are doses to go around right now. And we should be clear that we're not making any claim that we're going to suddenly help you succeed in finding the shot. The goal is really just to help you understand the vaccine flowchart. And we have heard from the Biden administration that officials are looking at options for something more centralized and clear. But many sources that I've talked to think it's probably too late for a system that marries all of these different things. And so in the absence of a solution like that, communication can help with the anxiety. So we're trying to lay out for people, here's where that vaccine is going. Here's what you need to try. And probably, just keep trying until you get your appointment.

INSKEEP: Selena, thanks for the work.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. And you can find this tool by going to the Shots page at npr.org. That's npr.org/shots. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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