When I first tried to sign up for the COVID vaccine, I naively thought it would be simple and straightforward. Then I read an article comparing the process to trying to score Beyonce tickets. I thought they were exaggerating. But no! It is an arduous process that involves frequent refreshing and fast fingers. With some research and patience, I scored a spot, and you can too!
Trying to schedule your COVID vaccine? We are here to help!
Step 1: Find a Pharmacy
Research in advance at which sites you are eligible for vaccination. Priority groups may differ at each site depending on whether their doses come from the federal retail pharmacy program or the state. Each pharmacy has a link on their website detailing eligibility for vaccination at this time.
In the Cedar Rapids area, your main choices are HyVee (click here for scheduling; click here for eligibility), CVS, and Walgreens. Walgreens does require an account to schedule an appointment, so be sure to create one and save your login info ahead of time. UnityPoint is contacting their patients as vaccines are available. Mercy offers a limited number of appointments online. If you want to try to get a particular brand, GoodRx tracks which vaccines are used at the different locations.
Step 2: Schedule an Appointment
This is where the fast fingers come into play. Some people say midnight is the best time to check for appointments. Others say the morning, and others the evening. Lately, HyVee has been posting their openings on Thursday afternoons.
After almost a week of trying to find an appointment, I happened to refresh the right page at the right time. I was in the habit of leaving the tabs up on my phone and computer, refreshing them throughout the day. I logged in around 1:30 pm on a Thursday, right when the Marion HyVee happened to load a batch of appointments for the coming weekend. The spots went fast! I called a friend while registering, but in the time it took to load the page and check her calendar they were gone.
If you’re struggling to find a spot, the Twitter account @IAVaccineAlerts automatically posts when appointments are available throughout the state. You could turn alerts on for this account or scroll through to see how often and at what time of day pharmacies near you are posting appointments.
Here are my tips to prepare for go time:
- Take pictures (front and back) of your insurance card, and Medicare or Medicaid if applicable, and save them on the phone or computer you will be using to register. Uploading them is part of the registration process.
- Decide ahead of time how far you are willing to drive and generally when you are available. You won’t have time to check your sitter’s schedule once the spots are posted.
- Review the prevaccination questions here so you are prepared to answer them quickly during the registration process. They may be presented slightly differently, but they will ask for the same information.
Depending on the pharmacy, there may be a consent form at the end that you need to print and bring to your appointment. If you do not have a printer at home, the Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha libraries are offering free curbside printing services. The Marion Library offers printing services as well.
If you are still struggling to find an appointment, you can join the Cedar Rapids Community Health Free Clinic’s waitlist by calling (319) 200-2550, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. It may still be a bit of a wait– as of mid-March they had received over 750 calls and administered 150 vaccines.
If you don’t have frequent access to the internet, consider asking family members or friends to help keep an eye out for openings. Have good access and tech skills? Consider helping others!
(Keep in mind that the CDC recommends spacing the COVID vaccine and any other vaccine at least 14 days apart. For pregnant mamas that includes the TDAP vaccine that is typically administered during each pregnancy. Recent studies have also shown that side effects of the vaccine can interfere with mammogram results. If this applies to you, be sure to talk to your doctor about the right schedule for you).
Step 3: Get Vaccinated!
For my first dose, the entire process took 30 minutes. I showed up at HyVee with my consent form in hand and was told to check in at the pharmacy window. After verifying that they had my insurance card in their system, I was directed to the seating area. When my turn arrived, the nurse took me to a small office. She reviewed the information on my consent form, gave me my vaccine card, and administered the shot. I then returned to the seating area to wait for 15 minutes so they could monitor me for any potential reactions while I reviewed the vaccine information packet.
By the end of the day, my arm was sore and I had a mild headache. These symptoms lasted about 24 hours. Friends, family, and research all say symptoms are typically worse after the second dose (or first if it’s the single-dose vaccine). Consider scheduling that shot for when you will have support the next day.
To track your symptoms, the CDC has put together a tool called V-safe. Once you sign up, you receive daily text messages. They can also call you if there are any red flags.
While it can be frustrating and stressful to face so many obstacles, it is great to know that so many of our fellow Iowans are choosing to be vaccinated!
Be patient, be kind, and hopefully we will be back together soon!
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