As of April 15, all Californians over the age of 16 are eligible for a free, safe, and effective COVID-19 vaccine. This is a tremendous step forward for humanity’s fight against the virus here in California, and the team here at VaccinateCA is thrilled that the floodgates have opened to millions more shots in arms.

That said: it’s not time to declare victory just yet.

As we prepare for the next months of hard work, here are some practical tips for getting yourself an appointment when millions of your fellow Californians are trying to do the exact same thing.

Eligibility does not mean availability.

On March 15, the state opened up eligibility for people with high risk health conditions. Here’s a headline from just three days later:

With the expansion to all Californians over 16, we anticipate a surge of vaccine demand that will exceed our increased appointment capacity. Recent challenges with vaccine manufacturing and oversight have only further diminished the total number of doses being delivered to the state (by up to 15% by some estimates) in the coming weeks.

You may be eligible for a vaccine, but depending on where you live, getting an appointment may not be easy yet.

Availability is hyperlocal.

California is a profoundly diverse place on nearly every axis, from geography to culture to politics. There are starkly different pandemic and vaccination environments separated by a single street or line on the map, all over the state.

This affects vaccine availability and demand. As we’ve seen from the very beginning of the crisis, different communities have been affected profoundly differently by the virus, and because of the intentionally decentralized approach California has taken to vaccine distribution, local governments have elected to handle vaccine eligibility and distribution differently too.

The result is a map with wildly disparate realities: some areas are desperate to give away vaccines to anyone eligible who will take them, while others struggle to fulfill the appointments to which they have committed. Enacting the same eligibility requirements statewide may help to address some of this tension, but the reality on the ground is that no two places look the same today, and there isn’t a mechanism for redistributing vaccines between regions based on changing demand. That means now, as in previous weeks, some areas will have lots of appointments available—and some will have very few.

Awareness is poorly distributed.

Because vaccine distribution is so decentralized in the state (and nation), basic information about vaccines is not as widespread as you might hope. In our work at VaccinateCA, we regularly hear feedback that people didn’t know that chain pharmacies would provide them with the vaccine, or expected their doctor to reach out proactively when it was their turn for a shot. In the news, we see stories about community vaccination efforts that struggle to fill walk-in appointment slots because people in the neighborhood aren’t aware of the clinics in their own backyards. Vaccination locations are generally prevalent; awareness that they exist is not.

So what does this mean for you (and us?)

The short answer: depending on where you live, getting an appointment may not be easy. Allowing anyone to compete for an appointment doesn’t mean everyone who qualifies for a vaccine will get one right away. It will still likely take months before we reach the levels of vaccinations experts would like to see. And VaccinateCA still has a lot of work to do. We remain committed to providing the most comprehensive map of vaccination locations in the state, and we make hundreds of calls every single day to do it.

In the meantime, we’ve identified some best practices for getting an appointment, and we hope they help you get a dose faster.

5 Basic Steps for Getting an Appointment

None of this is complex, but it isn’t necessarily obvious either. Follow this straightforward process to improve your chances of finding a shot quickly. Remember: millions of other Californians are also looking for doses; you may need patience. Don’t give up! More appointments become available all the time.

1. Be prepared with the right information.

Before you start searching, make sure you’re ready to jump on any opportunity. You will likely need two things: a picture of your ID (front and back) and your insurance number, if you have it.

The vaccine is free, and legally you should not be charged a copay for a dose. However, if you do have insurance, the vaccine provider will want to charge them an administration fee. By law, insurance is not required to get a vaccination.

You may not need to provide your ID to book an appointment, but most locations ask for some way to verify that you are the person for whom the appointment was made. The best way to prove this is with a government-issued picture identification of some kind, such as a driver's license, state ID or passport. However, any official picture ID you may have should be sufficient. Although some areas require that you live or work in the county to receive a shot from a county-managed vaccination clinic, it is not required that you be a permanent resident or citizen of the United States to receive the vaccine.

2. Start by visiting My Turn. New appointments get added all the time.

My Turn is the state vaccination portal. Although it is not fully comprehensive, as some counties and providers have chosen not to participate, it will have a variety of vaccination locations available.

Once you answer the screening questions, do not close your browser window or you will need to answer them again. New appointments get added regularly, so if you do not succeed when you first check, search again later in the day.

3. Visit Vaccinespotter.org to see real-time availability for certain chain pharmacies near you.

Vaccine Spotter is a volunteer-run website that publishes real-time appointment availability for many major chain pharmacies. Chain pharmacies are a key part of the federal vaccination effort, and are often overlooked as a source of vaccination appointments. We also recommend searching this site periodically, as availability updates frequently.

4. Check out VaccinateCA.com to find a comprehensive list of additional vaccination clinics.

Here at VaccinateCA, we are focused on providing the most comprehensive map of vaccination locations in the state. There are often locations, like clinics run by community organizations, or independent pharmacies, that may not appear on My Turn.

5. Check your county health department website.

Although we try to capture all vaccination locations on VaccinateCA.com, new locations get added all the time, and your county health department may have popup or mobile clinics we have not yet added to our site.

Pro Tips

1. Don’t close your browser tabs! New appointments appear all the time- keep them open and search periodically if you can.

2. Check later in the evening. Often there are fewer people looking later in the day.

3. If you don’t live nearby but are able to drive or get other transportation, try entering the location of a supersite like Moscone Center, Levi Stadium, or the Coliseum, directly into My Turn.

4. Both My Turn and your county health department have hotlines you can call for help getting an appointment if you need more assistance.

5. Walk-in clinics (no appointment required) are increasingly available. While the first day a clinic is open often sees a rush (and early running out of stock), subsequent days are often busy in the early morning but have no long lines after e.g. 11 AM. If you live in the area and have scheduling flexibility, they’re a good option for getting your first dose (and will often make an appointment for your second dose at the same time).

How You Can Help Your Community Get Vaccinated Faster

With new variants emerging every day, we’re in a race against the virus, and every day we shave off this pandemic saves lives and gets us back to normalcy faster. If you’d like to help us in our mission to accelerate shots in arms in California, consider joining us as a volunteer. There has never been a more important time to join our effort.