(Selfie after receiving the vaccine. Courtesy Thomas Smith/Gado Images)
Yesterday, Contra Costa County announced that it had opened up Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to all people over 16 years of age. That makes the county among the first in California to open up eligibility broadly, and to move outside the state’s tiered eligibility system.
Now that many more people are eligible for the shot, some are probably wondering: “What’s it like to actually get the shot through Contra Costa County?” Last week, I assisted a family member in getting their shot at a County vaccination center. I also received my own shot this previous weekend at a separate Contra Costa Vaccine center, for medical reasons.
Here’s what it’s actually like to get the shot in the county. I’m sharing this partially to alleviate any fears people might have about the process, and to remove as much uncertainty as possible around the actual experience of going in and getting vaccinated. Truly, I found the actual vaccine experience to be painless and was impressed by what the county has achieved.
To get the shot, residents of the county must first fill out a web form requesting an appointment at https://www.coronavirus.cchealth.org/vaccine
I filled out my form, and several days later received an invitation email from the county. It came from an email address which read “SMTP-No Reply”, so it wasn’t immediately obvious that it was from the county. A county employee told me that some people have had the email go to their spam filter. If you registered online and haven’t received the email yet, make sure to check your Spam box.
I then used the link in the email to create a MyChart account, which allowed me to sign in and request a vaccine appointment. I was given a choice of days for the appointment, as well as locations. Limited locations were available--prepare to either drive to a different location in the county, or to potentially wait longer if you need to get the shot close to where you live or work.
In my case, appointments were available about 4-5 days in the future.
For the first appointment, I accompanied a family member to a vaccination center at Diablo Valley College in San Ramon, California. The community college had been converted into a vaccine center, with signs set up outside and people waiting in line before walking through outdoor corridors to a registration area in a classroom.
When we arrived, the center was initially experiencing computer issues, and was running about 1 hour behind schedule. People were extremely understanding of this issue, and seemed grateful to be present at the center even if there were delays. People waited in socially distanced lines, while county employees sorted them according to their appointment time, and brought in a group of people at a time.
When you arrive at a vaccination center, be prepared to wait outside, and dress for the weather. Also, if you struggle with mobility, inform a center staff member. Wheelchairs and other assistive devices are available. I found that the staff members were courteous and helpful.
Importantly, do not attempt to walk in to the center, or expect to receive a “leftover” dose. I asked the staff about this, and leftover doses are allocated using a phone system. As of my visits, it is not possible to walk in and receive one.
When I went to get my own shot, I visited a vaccine center in Antioch, California. I found that the basic procedure was nearly identical, except that most lines were inside the center instead of outdoors.
As each group was ready to be taken back, a staff member led the group through to a registration area. Staff members seated at computers took town information, including ID information, and asked brief questions about eligibility. Because eligibility is confirmed in advance, I was not required to present eligibility documents during the visit. Bring an ID and insurance card if you have one, but be aware that the shot is free to you and you can get one even without insurance. During registration, people were asked to respond to several questions about their vaccine history, as well as Covid-19 self screening questions.
After registration, each group waited in another socially distanced line before being taken back to a classroom, which had been divided into sections using temporary hanging dividers. The dividers provided a measure of privacy for people receiving the vaccine. In each section, a registered nurse or other medical provider sat with a computer and doses of the vaccine in syringes.
Before administering a dose, the nurse confirmed my identity. She also asked me a series of health related screening questions. When I visited, the centers were providing either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. It is possible that they will offer the Johnson and Johnson vaccine as eligibility expands.
The nurse then administered my dose. I was given the choice of which arm I wanted to use. The process was fast and nearly painless. The nurse then presented me with a CDC Vaccination Record Card listing the lot number, brand and date of my first dose. My second dose appointment was automatically scheduled for 3 weeks later. I was told that I could reschedule it in MyChart if needed, or by calling the county vaccine hotline.
After receiving the vaccine, one then proceeds to an observation area. A nurse stands at the front of the room, and socially-distanced chairs are provided. People sit, and use the timer on their phone or a clock on the wall to self-time a 15 minute observation period. The nurse presumably checks for signs of an allergic reaction or other issues from the shot. Some patients are reportedly advised to wait 30 minutes. Because the process is self-timed, people who have received the shot could likely wait as long as they needed to feel comfortable that they were not experiencing acute issues.
I was also provided with a copy of the Emergency Use Authorization for the shot, which included information on potential side effects. I was also given a QR Code to download an app provided by the CDC for tracking side effects and accessing medical care where needed.
Overall, the process was streamlined and efficient. The atmosphere at the testing centers felt reverent, almost akin to attending a religious service. People seemed grateful to be there, even after the computer issues at the first visit. The first visit (with computer issues) took approximately 1 hour, and my own visit took around 30 minutes.
If you’re able to register and get vaccinated in Contra Costa County, I urge you to do so. Wait times may be longer now that eligibility has expanded, so make sure to schedule your appointment early. Once you arrive at a testing center, expect an easy and efficient process. I was impressed by how professional the whole process was, how helpful the staff members were, and how easy it was to get my vaccine once I had confirmed my eligibility and arrived at the vaccination center.
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