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

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?
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?
Residents under 65 with underlying health conditions?
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. So if you’re a teacher who lives in Torrance and works in Long Beach, you could be vaccinated now while your colleagues who work down the street are still waiting.
  • 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. California is currently vaccinating health care workers, long-term care residents, and residents 65 and older.

What happens after that is up in the air. California officials have said future eligibility will be age-based, without much detail on what that means.

So you can expect the state’s current vaccination plan to continue changing.

That also means estimates of when new groups will be vaccinated are next to impossible. The state has vaccinated more than 4 million people, but that’s still less than half of the people currently eligible.

At this rate, it will be 2022 before we hit a herd immunity threshold. 

The good news is vaccine dose allocation and the number of test sites are continuing to increase.

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, CVS or Walgreens.

LOS ANGELES COUNTY (excluding Pasadena and Long Beach)

Who’s eligible: health care workers, residents and staff in long-term care facilities, residents 65 and older.

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.


Who’s eligible: health care workers, long term care residents, people 65 and older, emergency responders, educators and food workers. They’re ahead of many other nearby health departments, and they vaccinate people who live and work in Long Beach, so if you qualify, Long Beach might be your fastest bet.

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


Who’s eligible: Pasadena has followed the rest of LA County in most of their vaccine rollout plans. They’re currently vaccinating health care workers, residents and staff in long-term care facilities and residents 65 and older.

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.


Who’s eligible: critical and health care workers, and residents 65 and older

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


Who’s eligible: Riverside County has a long list of specific types of workers who are eligible, including mortuary services, dentists and law enforcement. People 65 and older are also eligible.

How to get an appointment: Riverside County is using the state’s appointment site. The county also lists all the community providers offering vaccines. They’re also prioritizing residents over 75 with a separate list of appointments for them.


Who’s eligible: The county says anyone 65 years or older, and anyone working in health care is eligible for the vaccine. 

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


Who’s eligible: Ventura County has the strictest eligibility. Right now, only health care workers and residents who are at least 75 can get the shot.

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.


Who’s eligible: Santa Barbara County is currently vaccinating residents 75 and older, as well as health care workers. Those who aren’t eligible can sign up to be notified when they are. The county says residents 65-74 will be eligible in a few weeks.

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


Who’s eligible: Kern County health care workers and residents 65 and older are eligible.

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

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. 

  • only asks for a zip code and a phone number. 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.
  • Since we discovered earlier this week, the number of subscribers listed on the site has doubled.
  • 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.

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. 

What about residents under 65 with underlying health conditions? 

State officials are currently debating whether to move adults with underlying conditions up in the line to get vaccinated.

After California announced it would switch its vaccination rollout to age-based eligibility, the state faced backlash from labor unions and disability advocacy groups. Ever since last week, the state’s vaccination committee is considering whether to place people with underlying health conditions next in line, after residents 65 and older, and some essential workers (think grocery store workers and teachers).

Nothing is official yet, and there are still a lot of questions left unanswered, including what health conditions are eligible.

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, or @cgrey307 on Twitter.


Caleigh Wells