It’s been two months since the first Californian received a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 5 million of you have managed to get the coveted shot since then.
Everyone who has succeeded — or mercilessly redialed and refreshed till their fingers were numb — knows how maddening it can be getting an appointment.
And as we enter month number three on your quest for a coronavirus vaccination, the good news is there are more and more places to get a shot. But figuring out just where to go and how to sign up is becoming even more confusing as the options increase. If it seems like you’re stuck in a cruel board game — “CVS just closed. Go back three spaces, then drive 48 miles from Gilroy to Palo Alto” — here’s a guide for how to navigate the vaccine game in the Bay Area.
First, a few words of caution: Health care providers regularly update their instructions for signing up, so the guidance can change quickly. Also, we’ve heard about some trouble with people signing up online — especially with CAPTCHA, which computers use to determine you’re human. If possible, try switching browsers and, if that doesn’t work, devices. Some platforms seem to work smoothly on a laptop but horribly on mobile.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started.
Step 1: Check if you’re currently eligible for a vaccine.
California has created different phases for vaccine distribution. Right now, health care workers, long-term care residents, people 65 and older and people who work in education and childcare, emergency services and food and agriculture are eligible.
You can stay up to date by checking covid19.ca.gov and sign up to receive an alert when you’re eligible at myturn.ca.gov. A caveat: Just because you’re technically eligible doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get a vaccine right away. Supply has been a major bottleneck.
Step 2: If you’re eligible, regardless of where you live, check first with your primary care provider or hospital. Here’s a list of some of what the major Bay Area providers are currently telling patients.
Who: Individuals 75+
How: Kaiser will mail a letter or send an email to eligible patients to schedule an appointment. It no longer provides a phone number for people to proactively make an appointment. Non-members who are 75+ can call 866-454-8855 to make an appointment. Kaiser is one of the only providers still restricting access to those 75 and up. Kaiser says the cutoff is because vaccine supply is currently very limited.
More info on Kaiser’s website
Sutter Health (Palo Alto Medical Foundation)
Who: Patients 65+
How: Sign in through the My Health Online portal or call 844-987-6115
More info on Sutter’s website
Stanford Health Care
Who: Individuals 65+
How: Sign up online through the MyHealth portal or call 650-498-9000. Stanford has vaccination sites on campus, in the East Bay and in the South Bay.
More info on Stanford’s website
El Camino Health
Who: Santa Clara County residents 65+
How: Sign up online at ElCaminoHealth.org
More info on El Camino Health’s website
John Muir Health
Who: Patients 75+; Patients 65+ beginning Feb. 15
How: JMH says it will reach out to patients to schedule an appointment using patient portal messages, email, text messages and phone calls.
More info on John Muir Health’s website
VA Northern California Health Care System
Who: Veterans 65+, on hemodialysis or chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, with ALS, or who are homeless
How: Through your My HealtheVet account or by calling 800-382-8387
More info on the VA’s website
Step 3: If you’re not able to get a vaccine through your health care provider but the state says you’re eligible (say you’re a 68-year-old Kaiser patient), check with your county to see if you can get inoculated at a county site.
Some counties, like Santa Clara, have said county residents can sign up for a shot through them regardless of whether and where they have private health insurance. Others, like San Mateo, are directing people to private health care providers. Here’s what Bay Area counties are saying.
Alameda County is directing people to check with their health care provider. Eligible residents may also be able to get vaccinated at the Oakland Coliseum, which is a large FEMA/state vaccination site slated to open Tuesday, Feb. 16. Sign up through MyTurn.CA.gov in the coming days.
More info on Alameda County’s website
Contra Costa County
Contra Costa County is scheduling vaccine appointments for residents 65 and up. Residents who qualify can fill out an online form to request an appointment. Residents without internet access or who have trouble using the form can call 833-829-2626.
More info on Contra Costa County’s website
San Francisco County
San Francisco is offering vaccines to those 65+ and has several large vaccine sites, including Moscone Center South, City College and San Francisco State University. Book online at sf.gov or call 833-422-4255.
More info on San Francisco County’s website
San Mateo County
San Mateo County is directing residents to check with their health care provider regarding vaccine availability.
More info on San Mateo County’s website.
Santa Clara County
The county is vaccinating residents 65+ at a number of sites, including the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, Levi’s Stadium, Valley Health Center Gilroy and the Mountain View Community Center. Visit vax.sccgov.org to book an appointment online or call 408-970-2000. The county is also offering mobile clinics in East San Jose and Gilroy where residents can drop in to receive a vaccine without an appointment.
More information on Santa Clara County’s website
Step 4: If you still haven’t had any luck scheduling an appointment (say you’re a late 60s Kaiser patient living in San Mateo County), check with your nearby pharmacy; some major chains are beginning to offer vaccines in California.
CVS began offering coronavirus vaccines at some stores on Friday, Feb. 12. You can book at CVS.com, through the CVS Pharmacy app or by calling 800-746-7287. The locations will change depending on vaccine supply, but the vaccine is expected to be available at CVS stores across the Bay Area.
Rite Aid is offering vaccines at various Bay Area locations. Book online at RiteAid.com
Walgreens is also offering vaccines, including in San Francisco and Contra Costa counties. Book online at Walgreens.com.
Some grocery stores are also giving the shots. Visit mhealthappointments.com/covidappt to see if a store near you has any vaccine.
Step 5: Still not having any luck? You’re not alone, and, yes, it’s incredibly frustrating. Sign up at MyTurn.CA.gov to receive notifications when appointments near you open up. You can also check VaccinateCA.com, a crowd-sourced website that tracks vaccine availability, but things change quickly. Regardless, keep checking with your health care provider and your county. Availability is constantly evolving, and as more vaccine makes its way to the Bay Area, so will more appointment slots.
Have a story to share about your success or frustration getting vaccinated in the Bay Area? Send us the details by filling out the form below.