COVID vaccination in California: How do I book an appointment, what if I get the second dose late?

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People wait to check in at the Disneyland Resort COVID-19 vaccination site, January 13, 2021. Photo by Laura Kondourajian.

All Angelenos ages 65 and older are eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine, but booking an appointment has not been a smooth process. 

It’s especially rocky for the people without a reliable internet connection, a tech-savvy family member, or a friend who works in a hospital.

The anxiety around getting vaccinated is only made worse by growing concerns that supplies are running short.

Governor Newsom announced a new statewide vaccination portal this week. How do I use it?

Right now, the website is still in its pilot phase and only available to residents of Los Angeles County and San Diego County. Residents in other counties won’t get to use it to book appointments until next month. Anyone who isn’t currently eligible to receive a shot can sign up for alerts and get notified when shots are available for them.

Anyone who is eligible can type in their zip code, pick a location and make an appointment. Most of the time, patients will be told there are no appointments available. But LA County’s Department of Public Health will sometimes tweet alerts when new appointments become available.

Blue Shield is taking over vaccine distribution. How will that change things?

Life doesn’t change significantly for people trying to schedule an appointment. But since California has been criticized for being so inconsistent and slow with rolling out the vaccine, the state will now rely on Blue Shield to manage vaccine deliveries. The hope is that it will streamline the process and speed up delivery.

Any tips on getting an appointment?

If it is your turn to get vaccinated, it pays to be persistent.

  • Keep checking that state website for appointment availability. 
  • The city has also partnered with an organization called Carbon Health. You can schedule on their website, but appointments are hard to come by, so keep checking. 
  • You can also try to sign up for an appointment at a Ralphs’ pharmacy
  • If you have a primary care physician, you can call them and ask what they recommend. 

There’s also no consistent answer for the elusive waitlists for last-minute vaccinations at the end of the day when shots are about to expire after people didn't show up for their appointments. 

Some distributors are using vaccines on their own employees, while others deny the presence of an official waitlist. There are also reports of  hundreds of people lining up by pharmacies and distribution sites around closing time, hoping to get leftover vaccines. These are all unofficial, but if you see a line at your neighborhood pharmacy and have free time to wait outside, you might get lucky.

Governor Newsom on Monday said inoculation prioritization will now be age-based. What does that mean?

We haven’t received official details about what the new age-based rollout plan will entail. Health officials say at our current rate, we won’t finish vaccinating the current group until June anyway, and the entire population won’t get inoculated before 2022.

It’s possible that residents between ages 50 and 64 will move up in line, just like residents 65 and older did. As of now, the next group of essential workers will be prioritized, including teachers, child care professionals, and food and agriculture workers.

But none of that is certain yet. Labor groups are pushing back against the new plans.

"What was announced this week is all about efficiency and does not take into account equity,” says Andy Imparato, Executive Director of Disability Rights California. “There are lots of people under 65 who are at risk of dying from COVID, and they should be the same priority as somebody over 65. But that's not the way the state came down this week." 

It’s so tough to book an appointment. That has many seniors worried about being able to get their second dose in time. What happens if they don’t?

What we know from other multi-dose vaccines like HPV and hepatitis B vaccines is that if you’re a little late on your second … it does not seem to affect the efficacy. So the important thing [is] to tell people to get that second dose even if it’s late,” says UCLA epidemiology professor Tim Brewer.

Brewer says it takes a couple weeks for the first dose to fully take effect. Even after it does, he says you’re only halfway safe. “It’s estimated that the protective effect after one dose is about 50%, and it goes up to about 95% after the second dose. So getting that second dose is very important.”

LA County and the City of LA have both said that anyone who gets inoculated at a county-run or city-run vaccination site is automatically signed up for another appointment, and they will be contacted before they’re due.

Ralphs also said their pharmacy patients will receive a follow-up email for that second dose.

Are we going to run out of shots?

Governor Newsom said Wednesday that California has used 57% of the shots it’s received from the federal government. That means there are still about 2 million shots sitting in freezers, waiting to be used. On top of that, President Joe Biden said this week he’s buying another 200 million vaccines. 

How is California doing compared to the rest of the country? 

Last week, California was the worst in the country in terms of how many of our shots have made it into arms. Now we’ve moved up to 40th place. About one in 20 Californians has gotten at least one dose.

Biden has set a goal of vaccinating 100 million people in 100 days. California would need to vaccinate about 110,000 people per day, and the state is already exceeding that goal.

KCRW reporter Caleigh Wells has been covering the vaccine rollout. You can send her your COVID questions on Twitter @cgrey307 or email her at caleigh.wells@kcrw.org.