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You're About to Be Eligible for a COVID-19 Vaccine in California. Now What?

A smartphone screen showing a vial of COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccine eligibility requirements expand on April 1 and April 15, 2021. | Chava Sanchez/LAist
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The following article was originally republished March 31, 2021 through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Carla Javier

It's happening.

If you've been watching the vaccine rollout from the sidelines, waiting patiently for your turn, it's almost your time to step on to the field.

On April 1, all Californians 50 and older will be eligible for a free COVID-19 vaccine.

On April 15, all Californians 16 and older will also be allowed to book appointments for shots.

So it's time to make a plan, and we're here to help with a checklist of things to consider, links to guides and resources, and action items every step of the way.

Bookmark this page and reference it when you need. Send it to your friends and family. You can even print it out and check off each of the steps as you complete them.

And if you're still not sure about something, let us know. We've answered hundreds of vaccine queries from readers so far. Yours could be next.

Before Booking an Appointment

You're going to want to understand the process and your options (and it's OK if you don't already). Start with our FAQ guide. Whether you're new to this news or just need a refresher, it'll help get you up to speed on the supply, the science, the guidance, and what you need to do.

And for help speaking to your family and friends about the vaccines, we also have this —

If your questions are specifically related to your personal health conditions or medical history, please speak with your doctor.

A friendly reminder: Do not get any other vaccines in the two weeks before your COVID-19 vaccine appointment, says the CDC.

How to Get an Appointment

There are now many places to book your appointment for a free vaccine. But where should you go? That depends on where you live, and in some cases, where you want to get your shot.

To start, see if you can get a shot through your medical provider, or try the state's online appointment booking system, MyTurn. For more details and ALLLLL the other options (with direct links and phone numbers), we have this comprehensive guide —

Don't be discouraged if you can't get an appointment immediately. Refresh, and if possible, keep trying at different times of the day.

Space will be competitive. There will be a lot of eligible people looking for appointments, and limited spots.

Take Los Angeles County, for example. Public health officials estimate that 1.4 million Angelenos between 50 and 64 years old have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

But it's hard to know exactly how many doses will be available for them. Officials say — if you add up all the different ways a dose ends up here — around 550,000 to 600,000 doses arrived in the county the last week in March.

And remember that some of those have to be set aside as second doses for people who got their first ones a few weeks ago.

So keep trying.

We asked a volunteer vaccine navigator for advice on securing an appointment. Some of her tips include:

  • If you can, check the different sites throughout the day. Big batches of appointments can get released late at night, in the middle of the workday, or anywhere in-between. And sometimes, people cancel.
  • If you live in one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19, check with your local elected officials or trusted community organizations. They may know of mobile clinics in your neighborhood.

Transportation to Your Appointment

It all depends on your chosen site. Some are drive-thru only so you'll need a car. Some sites you don't need a car at all and can walk-up for your appointment.

And some sites were specifically picked because they're transit accessible, like the state and federal site at Cal State LA, though that site is scheduled to close on April 11.

If you don't have access to a car, here are some options you can consider (we'll update this section as we get more details):

  • Look specifically for sites located near public transportation. (Some counties, like L.A. County, are hoping to expand public transit options to vaccine sites in the future).
  • If you are an eligible Access rider, you can book a trip to take you to an approved drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site.
  • Lyft is also offering free or discounted rides to "eligible people." The Lyft site directs you to this form to see if you are eligible for one of these rides.
  • Uber is working with the City of Los Angeles and the Mayor's Fund to provide free or discounted rides. That partnership is only if you're getting your shot at the city-run site at USC. You can't apply for or request this though, according to a spokesperson in the mayor's office. Instead, if you live in an eligible local zip code (based on need and proximity), they will reach out to you to see if you want or need this help. If you do, you'll get a ride code.
  • Some insurance plans include non-emergency medical transportation. Check with your provider if this is something you can use to get you to a vaccine site.

What to Bring to Your Appointment

  • Your mask. You'll need to wear one at the vaccination site.
  • Proof you're eligible to be vaccinated, including: A form of ID that has your name and photo on it (does not have to be government issued), proof that you work or live in the county you're getting vaccinated in, proof of your age. Note: These do not have to be three separate documents. For example, if you have a driver's license with you, that would show your photo and name, age, and where you live, all in one.
  • Clothing that'll give your vaccinator access to your upper arm. Short sleeve shirts or loose fitting clothing might be best here. Long sleeves or tightly fitted clothing might be too difficult to roll up.
  • Fluids. Drink a lot of water. You will want to stay very well hydrated.

What to Ask Once You're There

  • How will I get my second dose? If you receive a Pfizer or Moderna shot, you will need a second shot in 21 days (Pfizer) or 28 days later (Moderna). Be sure to confirm with your vaccinator how you can secure a second dose appointment in the recommended window.If you run into trouble getting that second shot, we have a guide for that too: How To Get The Second Dose Of Vaccine — And Everything You Need To Know About It. If you get a Johnson & Johnson (also called Janssen) shot, that is a single-shot vaccine, so no need to worry about a second dose for now.
  • Can I have my vaccine card? Make sure you get (and keep) the white vaccine card with your name, the type of vaccine you got, and the date for your second dose, if you got Pfizer or Moderna. Put this somewhere safe. Do. Not. Lose. It.

After Your Appointment(s)

Don't be alarmed if you experience mild side effects, like pain or swelling in your arm or tiredness, pain, or fever in the rest of your body. If your symptoms are severe - like an allergic reaction - call 911 immediately. If other side effects linger more than a few days, call your doctor.

To help manage the more mild side effects, the CDC recommends:

  • Moving or even exercising the arm where you got your shot
  • Applying a clean, cool, wet washcloth on your arm
  • Staying hydrated. Fluids, fluids, fluids.

Even after you get a shot, you still need to be careful around other people and follow distancing and mask rules.

If you receive a Pfizer or Moderna shot, you are considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after your second shot.

If you receive Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), you are considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after your first (and only) shot

The CDC (and L.A. County) has guidance on what you can do once you're fully vaccinated, and what precautions you still need to take:

  • You can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without masks or physical distancing.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks and physical distancing —unless any of those people (or anyone they live with) has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • You do not need to quarantine or get tested following a known exposure COVID-19 unless you have symptoms.
  • If you live in a group setting (like a correctional or detention facility or group home) and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should still stay away from others for 14 days and get tested, even if you don't have symptoms.
  • Continue mask-wearing and physical distancing in public.
  • Continue mask-wearing and physical distancing when visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households.
  • Still avoid medium and large gatherings.
  • Still get tested if you experience COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Still follow guidance issued by individual employers.
  • Still delay domestic and international travel and follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations.

The CDC also says you should avoid getting other types of vaccines — including flu or shingles vaccines — within two weeks of your COVID-19 shot(s).

Talk to Us

How'd it go? What's working? What's not? What advice do you have for others preparing to get their shots?

We want to hear from you.

If you're okay with us reaching out to ask you about your experiences to inform future stories and coverage about the vaccine, fill out this form.

And if you have a question or experience not covered in our guides or reporting, you can fill out the form below to let one of our journalists know.

We can't answer everyone right away, but we do read everything you share with us. And it informs our reporting going forward.

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