The data is in, and COVID-19 vaccines are working. They’ve been injected in tons of people around the world beyond the initial trials and found to be safe and effective. Each of the three vaccines available use unique technologies to stimulate an immune response in your body, but none of them involves injecting a live virus into your arm. In short, they cannot get you sick with COVID-19.
Vaccines, along with social distancing, masks, and smart policy decisions regarding reopening businesses, will be our ticket out of this hellish mass experience. But getting a vaccine is tricky, and how to do it varies widely by where you live.
States, territories, and our one state-like district (DC) all have wide latitude to set their own COVID-19 policies and procedures. Advice and paths to a COVID-19 vaccine are going to differ based on which 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 jab.
Step 1: Figure out your place in line
Certain people are eligible to receive a vaccine sooner than others. The CDC issued guidelines on prioritizing certain groups by age and profession, but they are suggestions, not federal law. States have the final decision and are prioritizing groups of people slightly differently. You will need to check your own state’s guidelines, but we’ve summarized the CDC’s breakdown below, which should provide some rough guidance. In order from front of the line to back of the line:
- First Group (1a): Health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.
- Second Group (1b): People 75 years old and older, if they’re not already in a long-term care facility. Also, frontline essential works, such as firefighters, educators (including teachers, day care workers, and support staff), grocery store employees, public transit workers, postal workers, food and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, police officers, and corrections officers.
- Third Group (1c): People 65 to 74 years old, if they’re not already in a long-term care facility. People 16 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk for COVID-19. Also, non-frontline essential workers, such as “people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction 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-sourced guidance is mention of prisoners, who due to close quarters are ripe for COVID-19 outbreaks.
Step 2: Check your state’s rollout process
There’s no federal or nationally centralized list onto which you sign up for a vaccine. Each state, territory, and freely associated state has sign-up information available on its health department websites.
Some health department sites are more helpful than others, offering telephone hotlines, statewide sign-up lists, and eligibility checkers that will tell you whether you can get a vaccine yet, if you answer a few questions about your age, gender, profession, and health conditions. Other states merely direct you to a list of vaccination providers to call yourself.
Step 3: Find places you can get vaccinated
- Doctor’s offices, hospitals, and urgent care centers
- A local community 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 run the gamut: They could be MLB and NFL stadiums, mobile clinics, convention centers, or cities’ public health clinics.
- CVS, Walgreens, Costco, Walmart, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Albertsons, and other pharmacies, retail stores, and grocers may offer vaccinations via their own websites and processes. Texas-based H-E-B will also receive more doses. Target (in partnership with CVS), Winn-Dixie, and Hy-Vee are also on the list to begin offering vaccinations.
Many vaccination sites work by appointment. If there are sites that will send you texts or emails when appointments are available, sign up for one or more of them.
A government-provided vaccination site, such as a community health center or public health department, may be a safer bet if you’re worried about surprise medical bills or don’t want to reveal your citizenship or immigration status. They tend to be free too. In our research for this article, we found that many of them say on their websites that they don’t ask for health insurance information, proof of insurance, or immigration status. Check with your local facilities to make sure.