Where to Get a Covid-19 Vaccine, and What to Expect

Vaccination sites let you make an appointment so that you can be sure you’re not in for a long wait when you arrive. Now that vaccines are widely available, it’s fine to walk in without an appointment. It’s not guaranteed they’ll have space, though, so if you want to make sure you won’t have a long wait, make an appointment beforehand.

A government-provided vaccination site, such as a community health center or public health department, might be the safest option if you’re worried about surprise medical bills or don’t want to reveal your citizenship or immigration status. They tend to be free, too. In our research, we found that many say they don’t ask for health insurance information or immigration status on their websites. Check with your local facilities to make sure.

Most states also run mobile vaccination units, a broad catchall term for pop-up tents, buses, and trailers that are regularly driven to different locations. They typically show up in areas where residents have limited ability to go to a vaccination site, such as low-income neighborhoods, nursing homes, and rural areas.

While a state or city’s website for government facilities might only drop new appointment openings on certain days or at certain times, private companies operating in those states aren’t held to the same schedule. Each company seems to have a different time at which they drop new appointments, so openings are scattered across the day.

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Step 3: What to Bring to Get Vaccinated

Vaccines are typically covered by your health insurance, but it pays to check with your provider and the office before you commit to an appointment. Surprise bills are a problem in this country.

Private practices and retail locations, such as pharmacies, usually require you to bring an ID and health insurance card and may ask for the name of your primary care physician. Vaccination sites run by government services, such as at community health centers and public health departments, don’t typically ask for health insurance info, but you may need proof of state residency. Depending on your state, it may be possible to use school records, samples of mail addressed to you, or a statement from another person as a substitute for a government-issued ID. But be sure to check with the specific vaccination site you’ve decided upon.

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Photograph: Micah Green/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Step 4: Getting Your Vaccine

In the United States, the three vaccines available to the public right now via emergency authorization by the FDA are from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson Janssen. The mechanisms by which they work differ, and two require second doses at different times.

  • Moderna: Requires two doses. The second shot should be given four weeks after the first (six weeks maximum).
  • Pfizer-BioNTech: Requires two doses. The second shot should be given three weeks after the first (six weeks maximum).
  • Johnson & Johnson Janssen: Requires one dose. There’s no need for a second shot.

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