Goodbye March Madness…Hello Vaccine Madness

Available+appointments+at+Gary%27s+mass+vaccination+site

Available appointments at Gary’s mass vaccination site

On April 12, Illinois expanded vaccine eligibility to all residents over the age of 16, which only intensified the chaotic race among Chicagoan would-be vaccine recipients. On April 19, the city of Chicago also will expand vaccine eligibility to age 16 and older, but Chicago residents are able to sign up for COVID vaccine appointments outside of the city. However, 16 and 17 year olds can only get the Pfizer vaccine, as the Moderna vaccine is authorized for use only in adults 18 and older. Unfortunately, you can’t snap your fingers and get the vaccine. You will have to spend some time on different vaccine-scheduling websites so you can understand how the process works and get a feel for when they release appointments.

Those eligible and ready to receive their shot should go to CVS.com. Although CVS doesn’t have as many vaccine locations as Walgreens, they have the most straightforward website with many great features. On CVS’s website, after you enter your information, available pharmacies explicitly state which vaccine they have. This is extremely helpful for those under 18. Plus, if you write that your age is 16 or 17, only locations with Pfizer will show up. This seems very simple, but many websites and companies do not mention which vaccine they have.

CVS consistently adds appointment slots to their website at midnight five days in advance of open appointments. If you check CVS at midnight, you should see available appointments. However, now that everyone is eligible, it may be more difficult as more people are looking for a vaccine. Also, if you book your appointment with CVS, you do not need to rush to enter your insurance and other information after you select an available time. Unlike other websites, CVS holds your appointments for you while you answer medical and insurance questions.

Here are a couple more CVS tips:

  1. Make sure you are logged into a CVS account—only those 18 years of age or older can create an account, but you can use anybody’s account.
  2. Check the Illinois section on CVS’s vaccine homepage. It shows if locations are fully booked or available (this gets updated about every 15 minutes).
  3. Enter all your information around 11:55 p.m. and click the search button again at 12:00 a.m.
  4. At midnight, type in one of the cities on the homepage, such as Northbrook, Oak Park, Olympia Fields, Flossmoor, etc.

Luckily, you do not need to go through the crazy scheduling process more than once. Sophomore Riley Ablin scheduled her vaccine at CVS and said that “it was pretty easy to get a second dose.” Most vaccine sites make you schedule both doses at the same time or automatically book your second appointment for 21 days (Pfizer) or 28 days (Moderna) later.

Another option is Cook County Public Health. On their website, you sign up and then receive text/email notifications announcing when there will be appointment drops. The notifications come at random times but usually announce that the drops are sometime the next day. Cook County locations include a Tinley Park center that has the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (currently paused) and a Des Plaines location that has the Pfizer vaccine.
Lately, many people are going to Gary, Indiana—about a 45-minute drive away—to get their vaccine. Dr. Roland Walker, Gary’s Health Commissioner, said about 40% of the people who have been vaccinated at the Gary operation so far are from Illinois. Since Gary’s mass vaccination site is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), you do not need to live in Indiana to go there. You can schedule an appointment by clicking here or calling 866-211-9966. They have many open times and a button that finds the next available appointment. This site opened on April 7 and will be open through June 2. Fox 59 in Indianapolis reported that “the plan is to administer first doses of the Pfizer vaccine during the first three weeks of the clinic and second doses during the second three weeks. The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be given during the final two weeks.”

Sophomore Evan Jones received his COVID shot at the new Gary site and said that “the process was pretty straightforward. There were wide-open appointments after three or four days. Once I selected one, I filled out a form, and then they called me to confirm the registration details. At the site, I went through a parking lot with various checkpoints, received the vaccine in the drive-thru, and then waited for 15 minutes in case of any allergic reactions. They automatically made my second vaccine appointment after.”

There are many other vaccine sites that were not covered in this article. Rush University Medical Center’s main campus in Chicago has a large vaccine program—you can check this page from time to time. For those over 18, periodically check zocdoc.com and click the notification button. This is the website where they release United Center appointments. One great resource with every vaccine signup link is this volunteer-made document. This document gives all the pharmacy, government, clinic and hospital links as well as advice on when to check for appointments. If you can’t find an appointment with these methods (and are desperate to get your vaccine), join the Chicago Vaccine Hunters Facebook Group. When there are appointments available somewhere, someone posts about it there.

One thing is certain: You should not need to drive five hours to downstate Illinois to get your vaccine. Though it may be tough and irritating at times, there are enough sites relatively close to Chicago. It should not be overly inconvenient to get your vaccine. Good luck!