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People age 65 and older have been prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations, but appointments aren’t always easy to get. Gina Ferazzi/Getty Images
  • Even though they are in a priority group, people age 65 and older can sometimes have difficulty securing an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Experts say there are many ways to improve your odds, such as contacting your hospital and checking in with your pharmacist.
  • On the day of your appointment, prepare by making a transportation plan and bring along proper documents and a face mask, experts advise.

More than 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths are among people ages 65 and older.

That is a major reason many states are prioritizing older Americans for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

But getting vaccinated can be a challenge because of limited availability, logistical problems, and other factors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people ages 75 and older get secondary priority for vaccinations after healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities (Phase 1a), and alongside frontline essential workers such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers (1b).

Next to get vaccinated under the CDC guidelines are people ages 65-74, ages 16-64 with underlying health conditions, and other essential workers (1c).

The CDC’s plan is not a mandate, however, so procedures for COVID-19 vaccines vary widely from state to state.

Some states, for example, have designated residents over age 65 as priority populations for vaccination. Others have set the age cutoff at ages 70, 75, or 80.

The AARP has a state-by-state database on what vaccines are available, who is eligible, and where you can get a shot.

“Across most of the country, access to vaccinations is being done on a first-come, first-serve basis according to state-specific eligibility criteria and local availability,” Dr. Prabhjot Singh, chief medical and scientific advisor for the online COVID-19 risk-assessment tool CV19 CheckUp, told Healthline.

“The people that are getting the shots are being very aggressive about checking in online, calling their local facilities, and staying in touch with their primary care provider and public health office,” he said. “Whenever new appointments are made available, people are jumping at the chance. So, one strategy to get the vaccine is to be extremely proactive: regularly check online, call designated vaccine centers for appointment availability, and stay in touch with your primary care and public health offices.”

Singh said those who can’t be as proactive may be better served by sitting tight and waiting until the vaccine supply expands over the next few months.

“The situation is frustrating, but the reality is that across the country, we are dealing with shortages, as many states and regions are facing similar hurdles,” said Singh. “Until the vaccine is widely available, seniors and young people alike must continue staying vigilant by understanding their COVID-19 related risks, making safe choices, and connecting to helpful resources like CV19CheckUp.org.”

Here are seven ways that can help ensure that if you’re over age 65, you can get your COVID-10 vaccine as soon as you are eligible:

Check with your state health department. Every state decides who gets the vaccine first and how they get it. Some states have set up vaccination sites staffed by physicians and/or the National Guard. Some are distributing the vaccine through hospitals, pharmacies, or other channels. Some are doing a combination of the above. You can look up the website and contact information for your state’s health department on the CDC website.

Google it. Noting that searches for “vaccines near me” have increased fivefold since the beginning of 2021, Google will begin displaying state and regional COVID-19 vaccine distribution information on such searches. “In the coming weeks, COVID-19 vaccination locations will be available in Google Search and Maps, starting with Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, with more states and countries to come,” according to a Jan. 25 blog post from Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai. In addition to location information, Google will provide details such as whether an appointment or referral is required, if access is limited to specific groups, or if the location is drive-through or walk-in.

Contact your doctor. Your primary care physician may have access to information about vaccination sites and scheduling. In some areas, you may need a referral from your doctor to get vaccinated as well.

Contact your local hospital or regional health center. Hospitals are often the point organization for state COVID-19 distribution efforts. Some have established vaccine hotlines and are scheduling appointments for eligible groups, including people over age 65.

Contact your local pharmacy. In some states, including New York and Rhode Island, pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens are distributing vaccines and can offer information on scheduling and availability. Retailers such as Walmart and grocery stores like Safeway and Giant also are distributing vaccines in some places.

Check on waiting lists for unused vaccine. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have a limited shelf life. When people fail to show up for scheduled vaccinations, the shots need to either go in an arm or in the trash. To avoid wasting precious vaccine, some providers have set up waiting lists for people who can show up at short notice to be administered excess vaccines.

Ask FEMA. The Biden administration has enlisted the National Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which usually deals with the aftermath of natural disasters, in the battle against COVID-19. FEMA plans to open 100 vaccination sites across the United States. Two pilot sites are opening on Feb. 16 in the greater Los Angeles area, especially hard hit by the coronavirus in recent weeks.

Regardless of where vaccines are being distributed in your area, scheduling a COVID-19 vaccination will likely require some patience and persistence.

“We still see a lot of confusion about vaccine eligibility, availability, and logistics around the country,” Dr. Justin Graham, chief medical officer at GYANT, a healthcare technology company that helps hospitals facilitate the rollout of COVID-19 testing, told Healthline. “The situation varies from region to region, but we’ve heard stories across the country about providers getting hundreds of phone calls an hour with vaccine questions.”

Graham recommends that tech-savvy seniors look online at your local hospital or public health system’s web pages for more information, including online sign-ups.

Those less familiar with digital tools may want to ask a family member or friend for help registering for a vaccine and making appointments.

“Many hospitals have begun to implement new technology, like virtual assistants, that will walk patients through eligibility questions and allow online scheduling without waiting on hold or hope for a callback,” Graham said. “Even if the vaccine isn’t currently available, these systems can store patient contact information and get back in touch via text when new vaccination slots open up.”

Once an appointment is made, seniors will need to do a little more preparation for the day they get their vaccine, Dr. Nitin Desai, chief executive officer and chief medical officer of COVID PreCheck, told Healthline:

  • Bring along your personal identification and medical information.
  • Make a transportation plan. Check on parking and transport options, and determine if it makes more sense to have someone drive and drop you off at the vaccination site — especially if you have mobility issues. All vaccination facilities should have handicapped parking and entrances. A caretaker should be permitted to accompany anyone in a wheelchair.
  • Expect some waiting in line. In some cases, wait times have stretched into multiple hours, so bring emergency medications, snacks, and water.
  • Be prepared to wait for 20 to 30 minutes after the vaccine is administered to observe any side effects or reactions.
  • Don’t forget your mask and maintain physical distancing.