HERE'S TO YOUR HEALTH: Really, how do you get a COVID vaccine?

Dr. Wayne S. Strouse, M.D.

This week's Covid column will cover Covid vaccine accession issues.

Probably the #1 question I have gotten the past few weeks is about how to get the Covid vaccine. It has been very frustrating for a number of people who are eligible, but can't get an appointment for a shot. It's like trying to fill up a quart jug with a teaspoon. The quart jug is the number of people who are eligible for the shot, and the teaspoon is the number of shots available each week. Even if more shots become available, say triple what we have now, the demand is just so high. So now we are filling the jug with a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon. The bottom line is, it's going to take time. It may be another month or two before the supply comes close to meeting the demand. Still, someone is getting the shot, so you shouldn't give up. I researched various ways to find an appointment. Here's what I learned.

First, don't just show up, expecting to get a shot. Appointments are required. You may have seen or heard of people getting "leftover" shots if someone fails to show up, or they can draw an extra dose from the vial. Yes, that could happen, but you could waste a lot of time waiting around and end up with nothing. You are much better off getting an appointment. Here's how:

If you have online access (and if you don't, you may want to talk to friends or family who do have access to do it for you, since it is much easier than calling by phone):

Go to www.flvaccinehub.org. It gives you a step-by-step process for your quest. If you click on "Check Your Eligibility," it will take you to the state site where you will be asked questions to determine if you can get a vaccine, and if you are eligible, it will take you to a site where you can schedule an appointment. However, you might want to check the list of vaccination locations first, to see if there are any appointments available and where those appointments are located. When I checked the website in writing this article, the only state-run vaccination locations with appointments were in Queens, Brooklyn, and Potsdam.

Your next option is county vaccination locations. To find these on the website, scroll down to Yates County and click on it and you will be presented with local options. (Note: you can go to the county site first, and skip the State site if you know you are eligible, and you want a place that is close to Penn Yan. The closest state vaccination location is in Rochester.) Note that there are limitations at different vaccination locations. For example, Yates County Public Health is giving shots to essential workers, and those with underlying medical conditions. The hospital systems (Finger Lakes Health, Rochester Regional Health, and University of Rochester) are giving shots to health care workers. If you are over 65, you are automatically eligible. Your best bet is to check the pharmacies, which can also be done online.

Of the local pharmacies in Penn Yan, Walgreens is the place to check. They will even email you to let you know when there is vaccine is available if you sign up with them. You do need to set up an account with them to do this. Rite Aid is no longer giving the shot, and CVS is not giving the shot at any local stores. Village Drug and Water Street are trying to get Covid vaccine, but haven't gotten any so far. A little farther away, Wegmans and Kinney Drugs (Ovid, Seneca Falls) are also giving Covid shots. I could not reach them from the www.flvaccinehub.org website, but I found them both on the Yates County Public Health website. I will note that at the time I checked these websites (Saturday, Feb. 20) no appointments were available at any of the pharmacies. Also, remember, you must be 65 or older to utilize the pharmacies. Otherwise, use the Public Health or State run vaccination sites. Check for vaccine appointments at least once a week, since the number of vaccines each vaccination site will get is not known until the beginning of each week.

If you do not have (and can't get) online access there is a Covid-19 vaccine hotline set up by New York State. It is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. The number is: 833-NYS-4-VAX (833-697-4829). It can be a long wait on hold according to several of my patients who have tried it early on. It may be a shorter wait now, but of course, if there are no vaccines available, you may learn about that after a long wait. You can schedule appointments by phone at Walgreens by calling the local number, 315-536-1401, and follow the prompts. You will need to have a Walgreens account to do this.

What happens after you have an appointment? Make sure you show up on time for your appointment. If you miss your appointment you will likely have to start the process all over again. If you need to change your appointment, call well in advance and the vaccine provider may be able to swap out your time with someone else. If you have a medical condition that makes you eligible, you do NOT need a letter from your doctor. You do need to fill out a New York State Covid-19 Vaccine Form (available online at www.flvaccinehub.org, or you can fill it out when you go for your vaccine, on site). You should wear clothing that allows easy access to the very top of your arm. You should wear a mask, and bring a photo ID with your date of birth, your insurance card (if you have one), a list of any allergies, and your doctor's name and phone number.

When you arrive at the vaccination location, you will receive paperwork to read, a consent form to sign, and a survey to fill out. After you receive your shot, you will get a card with information about the shot and you will need to wait in the office for 15-30 minutes to be observed for a reaction. You will also receive an appointment for your second shot in three or four weeks (depending on which brand of shot you received).

The vaccine is very safe -- over 40 million people have received one in the U.S. alone. The side effects include pain at the shot site, low grade fever, fatigue, and muscle and joint aches. These are usually worse after the second shot and last for one or two days. Those side effects are reassurance that your body is reacting to the vaccine and making immunity, so that you won't get Covid in the future.

Remember, you are not fully immunized until two weeks after your second shot. Since you may still be able to transmit Covid to someone else even after immunization, you need to continue to wear a mask until we reach herd immunity (75-80% of the population immunized).

It's a long road, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep safe, keep your distance, wear you mask, and stay well. Here's to your health!

Dr. Wayne S. Strouse, M.D., is a family doctor in Penn Yan.

Dr. Wayne Strouse