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How to make a Covid-19 vaccine appointment in Western New York

How to make a Covid-19 vaccine appointment in Western New York

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Navigating the state's vaccine registration system has been challenging in the early days of its rollout.

Updated to reflect additional eligibility standards beginning 2/15:

Millions of New Yorkers became eligible to get the Covid-19 vaccine starting in mid-January, even though the growing number of people eligible continues to be far greater than the amount of vaccine doses available.

The vaccine-eligible have been able to make appointments to get inoculated since Jan. 11. But limited vaccine supply means many will be waiting for some time.

The state's vaccine registration system had a rough rollout, and many have had questions about how to sign up for the vaccine.

Read the full story from News Staff Reporter Aaron Besecker

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

Step 1: Figure out if you're eligible to get the vaccine

The state offers an online screening tool and a telephone hotline to help determine eligibility. 

You will be asked to provide personal information, including your date of birth, as well as questions about your employment and whether you fall into certain populations deemed eligible for the vaccine.

For those who don't have internet access or who don't use the internet, you can call the state's hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).

The hotline's hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

To determine eligibility and to schedule an appointment at one of the state-run vaccine sites, use the state's "Am I Eligible" app.

Here's who the state has made eligible to get the vaccine as of Feb. 7:

• Individuals age 65 and up

• Health care workers

• First responders, including police and fire, and support staff at responder agencies

• Teachers, in-person college instructors

• Child care workers

• Public-facing grocery store workers

• Corrections workers

• Public transit workers

• Public safety communications workers

• Homeless shelter residents and some shelter workers

Beginning Feb. 15, pregnant women and certain adults with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions will also become eligible to receive the vaccine. This is a long list, subject to change, that can be found on the state's website under "phased distribution of the vaccine."

As of Feb. 7, the list of eligible health conditions conditions include:

• Cancer, current or in remission

• Chronic kidney disease or liver disease

• Pulmonary diseases, including COPD, moderate to severe asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis

• Intellectual/developmental disabilities, including Down Syndrome

• Heart conditions, including high blood pressure

• Certain weakened immune system conditions, including transplants and HIV

• Obese individuals exceeding a certain body mass index

• Pregnant women

• Sickle cell disease or thalassemia

• Type 1 or type 2 diabetes

• Cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood supply to the brain

• Neurologic conditions, including Alzheimer's or dementia

Step 2: Make an appointment

If you fall in one of the vaccine-eligible groups, you can try to schedule an appointment at one of dozens of sites. Supply shortages have meant many providers are not currently taking appointments or are fully booked. In Western New York, as of mid-January, there were more than 100 sites registered with the state as distribution locations.

There is no payment required for individuals to get a vaccine in New York State.

But appointments are required to receive a vaccine. Individuals are asked not to show up to a vaccination site without an appointment.

Both the state vaccine website and call-takers on the state's hotline can point the eligible to nearby distribution locations.

The state posted online a list of vaccine sites in the five-county Western New York region. As of early February, the page on which the state posted the list required some magnification to see the text.

Some vaccine locations will allow individuals to make appointments online, state officials have said. Some require phone calls to set up an appointment.

Which vaccine sites should you target? That depends on what group you fall into.

State officials want health care workers to use hospitals. First responders and other essential workers have been encouraged to use county health departments, as well as hospitals.

Eligible members of the general public has been urged to make appointments through the state-run vaccination clinics, like the one operated out of the University at Buffalo South Campus, and pharmacies. 

Erie County residents may complete an online appointment request form to be notified when appointments are available through the county government. For much of February, the county is only vaccinating those who had county vaccination appointments canceled in January or who need to be scheduled for second doses of the vaccine.

The county governments are not the only vaccine providers in the county. Individuals should also check with other private and public vaccine providers. 

Once a person has been screened and found to be eligible, there are no apparent prohibitions for those wishing to make an appointment at a pharmacy to simply call the location directly. The state has asked pharmacies to concentrate on vaccinating those ages 65 and older, but starting Feb. 11, pharmacies are expected to begin receiving a direct allotment of the Covid-19 vaccine from the federal government.

A person who is eligible to receive a vaccine must bring "proof of eligibility" to the vaccine site, according to state Department of Health guidelines. Proof may include an employee identification card, a letter from an employer or affiliated organization or a pay stub. Those eligible based on age must bring a government-issued ID that includes date of birth.

For those receiving a vaccination at a state-run site, an appointment for the second dose will be made in person while the individual is at the site to receive the first dose, DeRosa, the governor's secretary, said on Twitter. Those who get the vaccine at a state site should not book an appointment for the second dose online.

Patience is key. With vaccine supply so limited and appointments filling up rapidly, it may take many tries before you are able to schedule an appointment. In the end, if you're not successful at making an appointment, officials encourage you to continue to check back about your eligibility and to make further attempts to make appointments as more slots become available.

It is expected to take weeks, or even months, for all those who are currently considered eligible in New York State to get the vaccine. For healthy individuals who are not currently eligible, the wait is even longer. But that is subject to change depending on how quickly other Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers are able to get their vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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Related to this story

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Buffalo News photographer Sharon Cantillon and reporter Tim O’Shei have been shadowing medical workers on the job since spring. As we near the one-year mark of the pandemic, we will be publishing a series called “Dispatches from the Front Line.” This report, from the medical intensive care unit at Buffalo General Medical Center, is the first.

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