Vaccine FAQs: How to get shots for you and your family in California

By Caleigh Wells

An Orange County paramedic prepares to administer the coronavirus vaccine at the Disneyland Resort vaccination site, January 13, 2021. Photo by Laura Kondourajian/KCRW

*Updated March 31, 2021

California’s vaccine rollout has been less than smooth. Distribution was slow at first, then the state was worried about supply, then the state recommended big changes in which residents get vaccinated first. Some counties followed suit, while others have not.

Appointment websites have crashed from high demand, and appointments in some counties are sold out for days. It’s confusing, frustrating, and changing daily. 

KCRW asked Angelenos to send in their questions, and we’re working every day to find answers.

Getting an appointment?
When will I get vaccinated?
Appointments and eligibility by county?
Residents under 65 with underlying health conditions?
Standby lists or waitlists?
Should I still get vaccinated if I'm already infected by COVID-19 and have antibodies?
Is the vaccine safe if I'm pregnant?
I live out of state, can I get vaccinated here?

Is there a trick to getting an appointment?

Maybe not tricks, but here are tips: 

  • Most local health departments are vaccinating residents who live OR WORK in their jurisdiction. And some health departments (e.g., Long Beach) are rolling out vaccines faster than others. 
  • Follow your local health department’s social media, and turn on your notifications. LA DPH has tweeted when new appointment times were made available. Orange County, San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern County, and Santa Barbara health departments are all tweeting almost daily.
  • If your employer is offering vaccinations, that’s likely your quickest path to getting a shot. If you have a primary care physician, check with them, too. Some doctors’ offices are sending updates to their patients as new groups become eligible, or more vaccine doses become available.

When will I realistically get vaccinated?

The answer to this is changing by the day, because it’s not clear who’s next in line. Beginning April 1, California is vaccinating: 

  • residents 50 and older
  • residents with severe medical conditions
  • Residents in congregate living situations, such as prisons or homeless shelters
  • workers from the health care, education, food, transportation, and emergency service industries

Governor Gavin Newsom also announced in early March that 40% of the state’s shots will be set aside for residents in disadvantaged communities, after recent data revealed that Black, Latino and low-income residents are getting vaccinated at lower rates. Another 10% are being set aside for teachers.

Beginning April 15, all residents ages 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine under California’s vaccination plan. Not all counties have said whether they will be following this recommendation yet.

With large groups of residents soon to be eligible, demand will be high, so not everyone will be able to get an appointment right away. The good news is the state’s vaccination capacity is continuing to increase. The state recently met its goal to have the capacity to administer 4 million shots every week. Governor Gavin Newsom said he expects California’s weekly shot allocation to increase to 2.5 million for the first half of April, and 3 million for the second half.

Appointments and eligibility by county 

Generally, county portals have the most locations and the most appointments. If they’re all booked, or if you live in a county where there is no public portal (see below), it’s also worth giving individual pharmacies a try, like Ralph’s, Rite Aid, Albertsons, or CVS.

LOS ANGELES COUNTY (excluding Pasadena and Long Beach)

Who’s eligible: LA County is now following state guidelines for vaccine eligibility.

How to get an appointment: LA County is using the state’s appointment site. You can also call (833) 540-0473 if you can’t sign up online.

The City of LA has a separate portal. PRO TIP: Sometimes the county site says there aren’t any appointments available, but the city site still has slots. Try both!


Lines were fast and short on day one of COVID vaccinations at Dodger Stadium, January 15, 2021. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

LONG BEACH

Who’s eligible: Long Beach is vaccinating everyone eligible under the state guidelines. It also opened to all residents 50 and older in March, before the state. 

How to get it: Long Beach has its own health department and its own appointment site.

PASADENA

Who’s eligible: Pasadena is vaccinating everyone eligible under the state guidelines. It also opened to all residents 50 and older in March, before the state.

How to get an appointment: “Pasadena residents should contact their health care provider or local pharmacy for vaccine availability,” says the city website.

The city also has a form residents can fill out so they’ll be notified when it’s their turn, or when there’s leftover doses at the end of the day that need to be administered.

ORANGE COUNTY

Who’s eligible: Orange County is vaccinating everyone eligible under the state guidelines. As of March 29, Orange County has not updated their site with the new state eligibility guidelines.

How to get an appointment: The OC has its own website to sign up.

RIVERSIDE COUNTY

Who’s eligible:  Riverside County is vaccinating everyone eligible under the state guidelines. They have not yet said whether they will expand eligibility to include everyone 16 and older by April 15.

How to get an appointment: Riverside County is using the state’s appointment site. The county also lists all the community providers offering vaccines.

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY

Who’s eligible: San Bernardino County is vaccinating everyone eligible under the state guidelines. They have not yet said whether they will expand eligibility to include everyone 16 and older by April 15.

How to get an appointment: San Bernardino County has conveniently listed all of the county-operated sites, hospitals and pharmacies offering the vaccine here.

VENTURA COUNTY

Who’s eligible: Ventura County is now following state guidelines for vaccine eligibility.

How to get an appointment: Appointments at county-run sites are booked here. The page also lists local pharmacies offering the vaccine. People without internet can call (805) 477-7161. Appointments are added on Monday mornings around 7:30, so that’s the best time to check for availability.

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Who’s eligible: Santa Barbara County is vaccinating everyone eligible under the state guidelines. It also opened to all residents 50 and older in March, before the state. Those who aren’t eligible can sign up to be notified when they are.

How to get an appointment: The county lists pharmacies offering vaccination appointments here.

KERN COUNTY

Who’s eligible: Kern County is vaccinating everyone eligible under the state guidelines.

How to get an appointment: The county has created an interactive map showing all the available vaccination sites.

What about residents under 65 with underlying health conditions? 

Adults ages 16-64 with severe underlying health conditions are eligible to be vaccinated. Anyone with the following conditions falls under this category:

  • Cancer, current with weakened immune system
  • Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above
  • Chronic pulmonary disease, oxygen dependent
  • Down syndrome
  • Solid organ transplant, leading to a weakened immune system
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (but not hypertension)
  • Severe obesity (Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%

That’s not a comprehensive list, though. The guideline leaves room for people who are likely to:

  • Develop severe life-threatening illness or death from COVID-19 infection.”
  • Struggle to receive ongoing care or services vital to their well-being or survival as a result of contracting COVID-19
  • Struggle to get adequate, timely COVID care because of a disability

Most counties are accepting self-attestation as adequate proof of eligibility. People in this group should also research which vaccine is appropriate for them, since the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not recommended for certain people with compromised immune systems.

I keep hearing about vaccine standby lists, or waitlists. How do I get on one of those?

Once these vaccines are taken out of the freezer, they expire in a matter of hours. So if someone doesn’t show up for their appointment, or if a freezer breaks, the clock starts on getting that shot into an arm before it’s wasted. That’s led to a series of unofficial waitlists. 

Without official waitlists in every county, health providers and vaccine standby websites are stepping in to provide waitlists. 

  • hidrb.com asks for a phone number and a zip code. If a vaccine provider alerts them of leftover shots, they choose nearby phone numbers at random to text. Co-creator Jimmy Chion says he hopes to start sending their first texts by the end of February.
  • Local providers like Men’s Health Foundation have created their own waitlists. They aren’t always listed publicly.
  • Some pharmacies have unofficial waitlists, too. For example, some social media groups like this one report having varied success walking into local Rite Aid pharmacies to get on a waitlist.  Many of these waitlists are only available to people who are currently eligible, but it varies site to site.

If you have been infected with COVID-19, are the antibodies strong enough to prevent reinfection? Should you still get vaccinated? 

You should still get the shot. It looks like people who had COVID-19 were protected in the months after their diagnosis, but some people became infected more than once. 

“Having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 may provide protection from getting infected with the virus again. But even if it does, we do not know how much protection the antibodies may provide or how long this protection may last,” according to the CDC

Depending on what treatment you received during your infection, you might need to wait up to 90 days for the vaccine. Talk to your doctor about whether that applies to you.

If I’m pregnant, is the vaccine safe?

Research is limited on the effects of the vaccine on pregnant women. Any side effects aren’t expected to be worse when you’re pregnant. Pregnant lab rats that received the vaccine didn’t demonstrate any concerning side effects. But we’re obviously not rats.

So pregnant women may choose to be vaccinated, but the CDC hasn’t gone so far as recommending it yet.

Pasted Image Drivers line up for coronavirus vaccines at the Long Beach Convention Center. Photo by Caleigh Wells. 

I live in another state but am located in California right now. Can I get vaccinated here?

There are reports of people driving across state lines and successfully getting a vaccine. Whether or not you can successfully do that in California depends on what county you’re in. Riverside County, for example, will let you get vaccinated even if your primary residence is elsewhere. You would still need to bring a utility or mortgage bill, or some way of identifying that you’re spending time living here.

It is not recommended that you try to do this. Each state is allocated a certain number of shots based on its permanent population, so each shot given to a traveler is taken away from someone who can’t get their shot somewhere else.

KCRW will keep updating this as we get more questions and find more answers. Please send your questions to reporter Caleigh Wells at caleigh.wells@kcrw.org, or @cgrey307 on Twitter.

Credits

Producer:

Caleigh Wells