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How to Get the Coronavirus Vaccine in New York City

Checking in for vaccinations at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Credit...Brendan McDermid/Reuters

There are multiple websites, disappearing slots and even attempts to game the system. Here’s our guide to what you have to do to get a dose in your arm.

It isn’t easy, and it’s probably going to be that way for a while. Right now, there are more eligible people than doses of vaccine. You need diligence and luck.

People are swapping tips in text chains and social media groups to try to gain an edge, and there is a dizzying array of websites and phone numbers to keep track of.

At every turn there are more questions about how best to book a slot, what happens when you arrive for an appointment, and what might happen if you just show up without one. The answers seem to change from moment to moment.

Here’s what we know about the process to get vaccinated in New York City. We’ll update this with new information as it emerges.

Eligibility and Access Who can get the vaccine? Currently, vaccines are supposed to go to medical personnel, nursing home residents, certain kinds of essential workers (including police, teachers and some grocery workers), and anyone age 65 and older.

You can find the most up-to-date information at eligibility pages run by New York City and New York State.

I already had Covid-19, can I still get a vaccine? Yes. The city’s F.A.Q. page explains why it’s fine — and a good idea. It suggests waiting for 90 days after your last positive test, but the site does not say that staff will turn you away if you come sooner.

I’m under 65 and immunocompromised. Can I get vaccinated? This group does not currently qualify in New York, and it is not clear when that might change. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that he hoped eligibility would be expanded to this group very soon, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted on Jan. 15 that doing so would mean millions more people trying to get access to a limited number of slots.

Do I need to disclose my immigration status?

No. That’s according to a city F.A.Q. page.

What will the vaccine cost me?

Nothing, according to the city page. It’s possible that you may encounter a form that does ask if you have insurance and then asks for that information for billing purposes, but there is not supposed to be any cost to you.

Do I have to be a New York City resident to get a vaccine in the city?

No. Two vaccination sites in the city, including at the Javits Center, are run by the state. Any New York resident can use them.

Sites run by the city are different. A nonresident — even one living out of state — who works an essential job in the city is eligible for vaccination at a city-run center.

But Mayor de Blasio said other nonresidents should stay away from city-run sites, and instead use those in their own communities. A city Health Department spokesman said that staff members at these sites had turned away people who had registered but did not meet eligibility requirements.

Can people who live in New York City book spots at state-run centers outside the city?

Yes. Any resident of the state can use any state-run center.

I’ve heard about people using fake addresses to get shots. What if people do this?

A spokesman for the governor’s office said that the state’s guidance is that anyone wishing to get the vaccine must complete an attestation that they live there or are an eligible essential worker who works there. Lying on that attestation is a misdemeanor that could lead to up to a year in jail.

What else should I know before I get started? Appointments go fast. There may not be any, anywhere, when you read this. Sometimes new ones open up unexpectedly and then vanish within seconds — the time it takes to double-check whether a time or day would work. All you can do is keep trying.

You will probably end up visiting several websites and creating new accounts for each one.

Be ready to keep careful track of user names and passwords. Don’t lose them.

The vaccination site at the Javits Center in Manhattan, which is run by New York State.

Credit...Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Getting an Appointment

There are a lot of different websites. Which one do I use?

Be prepared to try several, and to try them repeatedly.

Some of the vaccination centers in the city are run by the local government, but others are not. Then there are the state-run centers, and hospitals and other medical providers are also receiving doses they can administer.

A good place to start is New York City’s Vaccine Finder site, which allows you to map all the places administering shots in the five boroughs. It’s not just city-run centers — the site shows other places offering the vaccine, like community health centers and urgent care providers.

Most will require you to register online to book an appointment. Some allow you to book by phone.

If you pick one of the city-run vaccination centers, the scheduling link will take you to the city’s vaccine hub. You will have to a create an account if you don’t have one already. From there, the hub links to other web pages where you can book an appointment.

The vaccine finder site also links to New York City Health and Hospitals vaccination page, which asks you a series of eligibility questions before you can begin to try to book a spot at one of its centers.

For state-run providers — the Javits Center is one of two state-run sites in the city for now, but there are others in the suburbs, like the outdoor site at Jones Beach — you will begin by using its eligibility tool.

What other places are offering vaccines?

Some urgent-care centers, health clinics and certain pharmacies are offering vaccinations.

They’re also listed on the Vaccine Finder site. These also have their own scheduling systems — the more places you try, the more accounts you’ll be creating.

Other urgent care centers aren’t offering vaccines yet, but that could change. CityMD, for example, is only vaccinating its own employees and a limited number of other health-care workers who have received referrals to come there.

Check providers’ websites for the most up-to-date information.

What about my pharmacy or doctor?

Some pharmacies are offering the vaccine and are listed on the Vaccine Finder site. Most smaller pharmacies aren’t offering the vaccines yet, since they have strict storage requirements. Ask if they are keeping waiting lists.

Your doctor’s office probably can’t help right now, but someone there may be able to assist in finding a lesser-known vaccine site. They may be taking names for waiting lists, too.

Can I just call someone to make an appointment?

Yes, but some people have had challenging experiences here, as well.

Call 877-829-4692 to make an appointment at a city vaccination site. The line is currently open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is supposed to start being open around the clock the weekend of Saturday, Jan. 16.

According to the mayor, the average wait time has been 10 to 15 minutes, though many people have reported waits of an hour or more. A service is available for people who wish to speak in a language other than English.

The number for the state is 833-697-4829.

Why is this so complicated?

The systems that each agency or provider use don’t communicate with one another. Many of these scheduling portals existed on their own, long before a need arose to try to patch them into a citywide search tool.

Officials are trying to make it better, though.

“The goal is to bring these systems to, you know, in greater alignment, make it simpler,”

Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said at a Jan. 14 briefing.

When do new slots get loaded into the system?

As and when they occur, so keep trying.

Mr. de Blasio said at a Jan. 13 press briefing that the city sites made new appointments available whenever they happen. New slots can appear in the middle of the night.

The city’s vaccine hub site allows those eligible for vaccines to subscribe to email updates about new appointment availability.

How do I improve my odds?

There is strength in numbers.

It may help to band together with neighbors, in a local social media group, or through a mutual aid organization to alert one another when nearby slots become available. Some families are handing off search duties from shift-to-shift in near-round-the-clock booking efforts. If you’re trying to get an appointment for an older relative, see if you can divide the work.

One cautionary tale about relying on links that get passed around: Newsday reported that as many as 20,000 people who booked spots using a link that circulated for appointments on Long Island had them canceled because the link wasn’t supposed to have been live yet.

How do I find out about new locations?

The mayor’s website (especially the transcripts of his press briefings) and Twitter feed are good places to look. This week, there was an announcement about three new vaccine sites in New York City Housing Authority developments.

For new state-run sites, watch the governor’s Twitter feed, where there may be announcements about the day and hour when new appointment slots will become available.

Once You Have an Appointment

I got an appointment! What do I need to take with me?

The site that you booked through should tell you what paperwork you’ll need. Be prepared to bring any documents that confirm your eligibility, according to city and state information sites.

That means proof of age, if you’re 65 or older. If you’re eligible because of your job, you may have to show a letter from your employer, an employee ID card or a recent pay stub. It can’t hurt to bring it all along anyway, just in case.

Is it possible that there won’t be a dose for me, even though I made an appointment?

Unfortunately, yes.

On Jan. 14, Mount Sinai canceled appointments for people who were expecting to receive the vaccine, citing a “sudden decrease” in the amount of vaccine it was getting, it told the unfortunate recipients in an email.

Vaccination sites don’t control how many doses they receive, so this sort of thing could happen again. Providers that do cancel appointments may contact you later to reschedule, but you might want to look for another appointment on your own. So again, don’t lose track of the user names and passwords for all of the websites.

My family member has an appointment. Can I go along to help?

Readers report that they have been able to accompany older relatives to vaccine sites.

What can you tell me about the wait?

Vaccine providers are trying to keep lines from growing too long by spacing out appointments. There’s no easy way to know if you’ll have to wait outside, or if the entire wait will be inside.

All providers are supposed to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and everyone who enters one is supposed to wear a mask.

There is no way to search for a site that is entirely outdoors. However, the state site at Jones Beach is outdoors, and the one upstate at Plattsburgh Airport is in a hangar.

What happens after I get my shot?

You have to wait there a while to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction.

Indoor waiting areas are supposed to adhere to social distance guidelines, and people are supposed to wear masks. If you’re uncomfortable with this, you can try asking permission to wait just outside. But don’t just leave — it’s important to make sure you don’t have a reaction.

How do I make an appointment for my second shot? This can vary based on where you receive your initial dose. You may be able to make the second appointment in the waiting area after your first shot. If so, try not to leave without booking your second dose — it may be a challenge to navigate the same channels that yielded your first one. At state-run sites, you’re supposed to be able to book your second appointment at the first one, before leaving.

At some locations that you book via New York City, however, staff members may tell you that you will be automatically scheduled for a second shot, or that you will receive a link where you can schedule the next appointment. Before you leave, try to get a name and a contact number for a person who can help you if that doesn’t happen. If the workers tell you that you’ll get a follow-up email immediately, you may just want to wait outside until you receive it.

Could my provider be out of vaccine when it’s time for my second shot? Mr. Cuomo said in a Jan. 15 press briefing there was no reason to worry about that.

Even if you are delayed in receiving a second-round injection, there does not appear to be any harm associated with a minor delay, Dr. Jay Varma, a senior public health adviser to the mayor, said on Jan. 12.

Just Showing Up (And Other Questionable Hacks) Are people really doing that? Yes. The hope is that when vaccine sites close for the night, they won’t want to throw away leftover doses and will hand them out to people who are there at the right moment. City and state officials acknowledge that vaccination sites may have extra doses at the end of the day that they have to use, lest they go bad.

But it’s not something you should count on.

The state Health Department has a guidance document on what to do with leftover vaccine doses. It says “all providers should keep a daily list” of eligible individuals they can contact if there are extra doses. If nobody from the priority population is available, providers can administer the vaccine to “other public facing employees.”

As a hypothetical, it says pharmacists who exhaust their standby list could move on to store clerks, cashiers and stock workers rather than let the doses go to waste.

It is not clear how many sites keep standby lists, how they manage them and how they would define “public facing.” State officials said its sites were not keeping waiting lists, because those centers keep tight enough control of the supply that the possibility of there being any leftovers is remote.

The city’s health department emphasized that appointments are necessary. Its centers closely track doses, but same-day appointments can open up if additional slots are available.

But some people have gotten a dose by being in the right place at the right time. A 26-year-old New York Post reporter, Hannah Frishberg, received the vaccine while awaiting a coronavirus test at a clinic that had a leftover dose.

What about traveling somewhere else?

Every state makes its own rules. Florida, for example, allows nonresidents to receive the vaccine. Officials there say that makes sense, because so many people are part-time residents.

Many Floridians are not thrilled about it, The Wall Street Journal reported.

So should I try getting an appointment in Florida?

States get their doses based on population, so it’s not a very nice thing to do to people who live in the state where you intend to attempt this. There may be quarantine rules to contend with upon return, and you’d have to make arrangements for your second dose.

And as a practical matter, will you be more likely to encounter the coronavirus in your travels than you will be if you wait for a turn for a jab at home in New York?

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