Why You Need a COVID-19 Vaccine—and How to Get It

By Jennifer Wolff |

Booking a vaccine appointment may require patience and perseverance, but it’s worth it. Here’s why, plus tips on how to make it happen.

older woman getting covid-19 vaccine

First, the good news: Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are now available, and millions of people in the United States have already received them. Currently, 30 percent of adults 65 years and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That means some people now have valuable—and lifesaving—protection against this serious disease. It also means we’ve started on the long road back to “normal.”

The less-than-thrilling news? Vaccinating an entire country against a relatively new disease is a massive task, and in some cases, signing up for a vaccine may require patience and perseverance. But it’s absolutely worth every effort.

Here’s why, plus tips on how to book an appointment.

Why Older Adults Need the COVID-19 Vaccine

In the past year, one of the most important things we’ve learned is that if you’re 65 years or older, you’re at higher risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19. In fact, eight out of 10 people who die from COVID-19 are 65 or older, according to the CDC.

There are a few reasons for this. In general, aging can compromise your immune system, says Gary LeRoy, M.D., board chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Plus, older adults are more likely to have other health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, which can increase your risk of complications if you get COVID-19.

What’s more, hospitalization and death aren’t the only risks to consider. Some people who get COVID-19 may experience long-term symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog, or aches. And while it’s important to maintain physical distance from other people to help prevent the spread of the illness, extended periods of isolation can lead to loneliness and poor mental health—especially for older adults.

All of this points to the same conclusion: Getting vaccinated may not only save your life from COVID-19. It can help protect your physical and mental health during this challenging time.

That’s why the CDC recommends older adults get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available to you.

Which COVID-19 Vaccine Should You Get?

The simplest answer: the first one that you can get.

Currently, there are three vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that have been found to be safe and effective against COVID-19. Because the goal is to get vaccines out to people as quickly as possible, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to choose which vaccine you get.

Any COVID-19 vaccine is far better than no shot at all, says Judith Beizer, Pharm.D., a clinical professor at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in New York. “The main goal is to prevent serious disease, hospitalization, and death. That’s what all these vaccines do,” she says.

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Even if you do get sick with COVID-19, the vaccine still offers some level of protection against severe illness. “If you happen to be among the small group of people for whom the vaccine doesn’t work as well, your symptoms are still likely to be minor enough to avoid hospitalization,” says Timothy W. Farrell, M.D., an associate professor of geriatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

When you receive your vaccine, it’s important to follow any instructions that you are given. For example, some vaccines may require two doses to fully protect you against COVID-19, so you’ll want to make sure to get both doses.

Here are key things to know about each vaccine:

  • Pfizer: Requires two shots given 21 days apart
  • Moderna: Requires two shots given 28 days apart
  • Johnson & Johnson (a.k.a. Janssen): Requires one shot

How to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine

The exact process of signing up for a COVID-19 vaccine may vary depending on where you live. That’s because many different organizations are helping in the vaccine distribution process. The federal government provides national guidelines, but each state has its own plan for vaccine distribution.

States also often work with other organizations, such as:

  • Local health departments
  • Hospitals
  • Participating pharmacies

However, each individual organization isn’t connected, so your local health department may not know whether there are available doses and appointments at your local pharmacy, and vice versa.

That’s why booking an appointment may require different strategies. Here are a few to try.

1. Start with Your State Health Department

Each state or territory may have specific information about its plans for vaccination and instructions on how to get one. To find your state or territory health department website, start here. In the “How Do I Get a Vaccine?” section, use the dropdown menu to select your state or territory.

2. Check the VaccineFinder Tool

VaccineFinder is a site that allows you to enter your zip code and search area—say, within 10 miles—and get a list of COVID-19 vaccine providers. For each, you’ll see:

  • Name, address, and phone number or website of the provider
  • If they have vaccines available (in stock)
  • Hours of operation
  • If available, a link to schedule an appointment

Currently, it only shows information for Alaska, Tennessee, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, Utah, and New York state (except for New York City), but information for other states may be added in the coming weeks.

3. Make an Appointment Through Your Local Pharmacy’s Website

Costco, CVS Pharmacy, Kroger, Publix, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, and many other pharmacies are on the CDC’s list of pharmacies that will offer vaccines. Visit the specific pharmacy’s website to check your eligibility and make an appointment.

4. Find Local Vaccine Hunters on Facebook

Facebook groups dedicated to local information about vaccine appointments have garnered thousands of members. Most groups serve a specific area, like Chicago Vaccine Hunters, South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info, or Find a COVID Shot WA.

The advantage of these groups: With so many people involved, it’s easier to monitor different websites that release vaccine appointments and share updates in real time.

To find a Facebook group dedicated to your city, try searching for “vaccine hunter Facebook group” plus the name of your city. As with any other online group or message board, don’t share your personal information.

5. Enlist the Help of Tech-Savvy Family Members or Friends

All the tips so far have required some level of tech savvy. That’s because the internet has the most up-to-date information about where vaccines are available, and it’s also the primary platform for booking appointments.

If you’re not comfortable in the digital space, don’t be shy about asking someone you trust for help. This may be a child, grandchild, or close friend.

If you’re comfortable, share essential information with your trusted helper in advance, so they can fill out online forms on your behalf. This can include your:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Any health conditions
  • Preferred appointment times

Most of all, remember it’s worth it to get your COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can.

For the latest on COVID-19 vaccines, see information from the CDC.

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