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Here’s When (And How) You Can Actually Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

The U.S. has two COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use so far, with more to come, and production seems to be ramping up. Naturally, you might wonder how to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Despite the aforementioned good news, the rollout has been less than smooth. Limited vaccine supply has been one huge hurdle, as have a confusing vaccine appointment process and inequitable distribution. These kinds of obstacles make it difficult for U.S. states and territories to plan, and frustrating—if not impossible at times—for people to schedule appointments.

Amy Pisani, the executive director of the non-profit Vaccinate Your Family, has been receiving phone calls from would-be COVID-19 vaccine recipients who need help. “Some of them have the saddest stories,” she tells SELF. Many have limited capabilities with computers, and small glitches can ruin the process. Others are dealing with subpar state websites that take users in confusing circles or crash frequently. They’re eligible, they want the vaccine, but “they don’t know where to go,” Pisani says.

As the vaccine rollout continues, the hope is that officials make the process more equitable, less confusing, and easier to navigate for us all. In the meantime, how can you figure out when it’s your turn to get a coronavirus vaccine? And, once it’s your turn, how can you actually get one?

First, know that vaccination eligibility is rolling out differently in every state.

On a national scale, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines for who should get vaccinated first when there’s a limited supply of vaccine—like there is now. First, health care workers and long-term facility residents got vaccine priority. After that, the CDC recommended people over the age of 75 and certain frontline essential workers for vaccine priority. People aged 65 and above, people with conditions that put them at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and other essential workers are next, and then, it seems, comes everyone else.

But exactly when and where you get your vaccine will depend on where you live. “The federal government is only distributing vaccines to states, and then it’s really up to the states,” Timothy Brewer, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA, tells SELF. So each state has implemented these CDC recommendations as they see fit. In Oregon, for example, officials moved teachers higher on the priority list; in Florida, the state opened up vaccination to everyone over 65 early on. Through a “vaccine buddy system,” Massachusetts is allowing caregivers to get vaccinated if they accompany those over 75 to their appointments. States are also moving at different paces through their prioritized groups.

Check your state health department to see if you’re currently eligible for the vaccine.

Ideally, once you become eligible (if you’re not already), a health care provider, public health office, or major hospital system will get in touch to let you know. “Generally speaking, health care providers are trying to reach out to their patients with information,” Lisa Ishii, M.D., senior vice president of operations for Johns Hopkins Health System, tells SELF.

If you haven’t heard anything, to figure out if you’re in one of the groups currently being vaccinated in your location, you can start by seeing who your state (or territory) Department of Health deems eligible right now. (Here’s a list of state/territory departments of health from the CDC.) Those eligibility criteria are often somewhere central on the department of healths’ website landing pages; some even have a survey to fill out to make it simpler. If you’re not yet eligible, look to see if there’s a timeline for when the state plans to open vaccination to more people. Lastly, check if there’s a form you can fill out in order for the department of health to notify you when you’re eligible. You may even be able to preregister for the vaccine, which can add you to your area’s vaccination waitlist and let you know when you can make an appointment.

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