This week’s COVID Catch-up: Tips for vaccine appointments

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Vaccinations are one everyone’s minds—what are some ways to get one?

COVID Catch-up is a weekly column featuring Lansing Journal journalist Carrie Steinweg’s personal experience with COVID-19 and things she learned from others who shared their experiences. Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss any COVID Catch-ups. Last week’s column is available here.

By Carrie Steinweg
COVID
Carrie Steinweg (photo provided)

LANSING, Ill. (March 24, 2021) – It’s been several months now since the first COVID-19 vaccines became available in the United States. The process is moving along, although if you’re someone eager to get the vaccine and waiting your turn, it can feel like it’s all moving at a snail’s pace.

Priority is being given to those in health care and in specific professions that entail much interaction with the public, those in advanced age categories, and those with underlying medical conditions. Over the past few weeks of online research, monitoring websites, following the topic on social media and hearing from those who have had success in scheduling vaccine appointments, I’ve been jotting down tips and thought I would share them here.

Vaccine background

If you’re unsure how it all works, the first place you’ll want to to look is cdc.gov, the site of the Centers for Disease Control. There you can get basic information on the vaccine, including the benefits of being vaccinated, the different vaccines being used, information on effectiveness, and more. You cannot make an appointment through the site, as that is being done at the state level. However, the site does give much information on the vaccine process and some resources for finding available vaccines.

Where to start

You may want to first start by visiting dph.illinois.gov, which is the site for the Illinois Department of Public Health, and where you can find information on what phase the state is currently in. It also provides information on the state’s vaccination plan and gives detail on each phase and who is eligible in that phase. As of this writing, Illinois is in Phase 1B+, as is Cook County. However, that doesn’t mean that there are enough vaccines currently to accommodate everyone in that group and finding an available appointment can be difficult. Even as the state moved to this phase, several counties were unprepared and not yet participating in that phase. Cook County is one of these counties that lagged behind the state, and only this week did Cook County move to Phase 1B+.

The Illinois Department of Health has a phone number, (833) 621-1284, that you can call to help you find an appointment (except for residents of Chicago). At coronavirus.illinois.gov you can find a listing of vaccination locations and start from there.

Searching for locations

You’ll find that some vaccination sites have restrictions. Some are only offering to specific age groups or only people who reside in a specific area. Vaccination sites are taking place in a variety of places, among them hospitals, schools, pharmacies, college campuses, health clinics, and municipal sites.

Each county’s health department will have more information and you are able to be vaccinated outside the county where you live. If you are willing to travel to another county, you may find easier availability there.

In Cook County, you can register online at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov. You will fill out a sign-up form and be given a code and get further updates via email.

The website ilvaccine.org allows you to filter through different locations in the state for availability. There are some sites for Chicago residents only open to those 18+, so although you may not be eligible, it’s good information to pass on to someone who might live in one of those neighborhoods. The site refreshes every few minutes as appointments become available. It also lets you know which ones have strict residency requirements.

Vaccinefinder.org is another site where you can find available locations and you can filter to look for a specific zip code, a specific brand of vaccine, or by a specific amount of miles you are willing to go.

You can also register on the site of a pharmacy that is administering vaccines. Walgreen’s, Meijer, CVS, and Mariano’s have locations that are vaccination sites. The websites mentioned above will lead you to the store’s registration site when it shows that appointments are available, but registering in as many places as possible can help your chances of securing an appointment. Some may send you a notification when appointments are available. Even if you have registered with each store, you may want to monitor one of the above pages to see availability in real time.

Best practices

Try searching websites when the clock strikes midnight. Some sites may open appointments for the day at that time and you may be more likely to get a time slot reserved.

Don’t rely on websites or email only. If there is an available phone number, try calling. This can be an easier way to get accurate and up-to-date information in some cases. You can also call and ask if there is a time each day when they open up additional appointments due to no-shows or cancellations or if they have a call list to notify interested people if they have extra doses.

Use social media to your advantage. Register for neighborhood sites like Nextdoor where people in your neighborhood share tips, including where to find a vaccine appointment or join Facebook groups where tips on getting vaccine appointments are shared.

As more vaccines are made available, some agencies and municipalities are getting supplies to set up one-day mass vaccinations. If you are on Facebook or Twitter, follow all the villages, towns and townships in the area that you would be willing to travel to for a vaccine. Sometimes postings give little notice and the best way of learning that information may be a social media post on their page.

Check with your physician’s office to see if they might be aware of sites in your area that you have not checked with yet.

Let your friends and family know when you are ready to make an appointment. It can often come down to just a matter of timing. Ask friends to send you a text if they find a place with available appointments. When open, appointments often are filled quickly, so be ready to jump on any opportunity and ask others to help by letting you know when they learn of available appointments.

Let Google or Siri do some work. Try different search phrases like “help with vaccine appointment near me,” “get a vaccine appointment in Cook County,” “vaccine appointments for 1bplus” and take time to scroll through. You’ll find articles about teenagers helping senior schedule appointments, tips on the best times to snag an appointments or other tricks to use technology to your advantage.

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