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Family caregivers are a key resource that provide care, but many are not prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. urbazon/Getty Images
  • Family caregivers, also called informal caregivers, perform similar tasks as nurses and healthcare professionals, but it’s often unclear whether they’ve been prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Many states have specific criteria caregivers have to meet to be eligible.
  • In certain areas, you may be required to obtain documentation from the patient or their healthcare team stating your duties as a caregiver.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

Family caregivers have put their lives on the line during the pandemic by providing care for older or disabled people who depend on them for daily assistance with personal care and medical needs.

Family caregivers, also called informal caregivers, perform similar tasks as nurses and healthcare professionals, but it’s often unclear whether they’ve been prioritized to receive the shot.

Terri Harvath, PhD, RN, the director of the Family Caregiving Institute at University of California Davis and president of the Gerontological Society of America, says that “when we also protect the family caregiver, we are protecting our older, at-risk patients.”

But most states haven’t prioritized family caregivers for the vaccine, and only a few states, Oregon and Massachusetts, are allowing paid and unpaid caregivers to get the shot.

These states often have specific criteria caregivers have to meet to be eligible.

California announced that family members of people with certain conditions — including Down syndrome, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy — are eligible.

A family caregiver is an unpaid family member or aid who regularly cares for an older or disabled person.

Estimates predict there are approximately 44 million informal caregivers in the United States who provide critical care for people with an acute or chronic health condition.

Family caregivers may assist with daily activities, personal care, or medical needs. This can include driving an older person to their doctor’s appointments and performing sophisticated medical tasks, such as administering IVs or providing wound care.

“If you’re doing any or all of these, you’re a family caregiver. You may not think of yourself as one but you are,” said John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network.

Right now, the criteria allowing eligibility to get vaccinated as a family caregiver differs between states and counties.

“There is no agreed upon definition of ‘family caregiver,’ Harvath said. She classified family caregivers as a “person who helps an older relative, neighbor, or friend who needs assistance with daily living concerns because of their physical or cognitive health challenges.”

In the states in which some caregivers can get vaccinated, eligibility often depends on the person they care for.

For example, in South Carolina, family caregivers of children with serious medical conditions can get vaccinated but not those who care for adults.

Whereas in Illinois, caregivers who help family members with disabilities of any age can get vaccinated. In Michigan, only family caregivers who care for someone who is a Medicaid beneficiary can get the shot.

Family caregivers who are part of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers with the U.S. Department of Veterans are eligible to get the shot.

Schall recommended contacting the local health department and asking if family caregivers are eligible for the vaccine.

In some counties and states, you can sign up to be notified when you are eligible. Schall said it’s a good idea to sign up and be in their system.

Pharmacies and drug stores also have a form you can fill out to be contacted for eligibility updates.

Schall also recommended contacting your doctor or the doctor of the person you care for. They can look at the patient’s medical history and know if they meet the criteria.

You can also call the Caregiver Action Network’s caregiver help desk at 855-227-3640. The help desk also has a live chat and email option.

There may also be a process for securing a reservation.

In certain areas, you may be required to obtain documentation from the patient or their healthcare team stating your duties as a caregiver.

In addition, to book a vaccine appointment, you need to check a box that confirms your eligibility.

“You just have to go ahead and check yourself as a healthcare worker in most cases,” Schall said, noting that you can clarify your status as a family caregiver at your vaccine appointment.

Most states haven’t prioritized family caregivers for the vaccine, but a few states now vaccinate family caregivers who meet certain criteria. In states where eligible, caregivers should check the box qualifying them as a healthcare worker. In areas where caregivers are not yet eligible, experts recommended contacting your local health department, pharmacy, and healthcare professional frequently for updates.