Many vaccination sites work by appointment. If there are sites that will send you texts or emails when appointments are available, sign up for one or more of them.
As of yet, states don’t have completely centralized appointment websites. Each state is a mashup of several appointment scheduling websites, both government-run and private. You have to check all of them to maximize your chances of finding an appointment. Private companies, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, use their own independent scheduling websites, with close to zero exceptions.
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 for this article, 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.
Most of the following information is anecdotal, although this anecdotal evidence has been getting stronger recently as people across the country, and even some trade groups, post their experiences of having luck at particular times.
- CVS, for example, seems to prefer adding more appointments between 1 am to 5 am local time after many people have gone to bed and site traffic lessens.
- Walgreens seems to drop openings around 5 am local time.
- For most states that Safeway and Albertsons operate in, their appointment scheduling website is updated in 30-minute intervals throughout the day, although new openings aren’t necessarily released at each update. For Pacific Northwestern states, they drop appointments every Thursday at 5 pm local time.
For private company websites, keep searching throughout the day for the occasional openings that may become available, but make an effort very late or very early, as companies seem to be favoring times between midnight and sunrise.
Showing up without a preregistered appointment is increasingly being allowed, particularly at government-run vaccination sites. With every state having its own rapidly changing rules, and each private company running its own scheduling, double-check everything before you show up to attempt a walk-in.
Step 3: What to Bring to Get Vaccinated
Vaccines are typically covered by your health insurance, but it pays to check with your insurance 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.