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Searching for a coronavirus vaccine appointment in the Big Apple can feel like the pandemic equivalent of trying to book a table at Rao’s — everybody wants in, but you may as well fuhgeddaboudit.
Those who are eligible for a coveted dose have to wade through a series of notoriously clunky websites — with no coordination between city, state and private sites or systems — searching for elusive appointments that get snatched up as quickly as they become available.
“It’s a totally disjointed and confusing process to get an appointment. It requires checking many different websites and generally people who are not tech savvy or don’t have hours of free time are just not able to navigate their way through the process,” Councilman Mark Levine, the chair of the council’s Committee on Health and a frequent critic on the vaccine rollout, told The Post.
S. Mitra Kalita, the publisher of Epicenter-NYC — a newsletter that now has a network of volunteers who are scheduling appointments for the public — says the confounding system is particularly “a deterrent” for people who aren’t digitally savvy or don’t have the time to check multiple websites.
There’s also a “disconnect” between the times of day appointments are available and the limited schedules of many essential workers, she noted.
“If you’re an essential worker who has one day off and a limited window, and we’re not even talking about transportation and the hopscotch going around across the boroughs, suddenly the window for what you can do is limited,” Kalita said.
But unlike Rao’s, securing a vaccine booking isn’t impossible — and more than 2 million doses have already been administered across the five boroughs.
Here’s a guide to navigating the various options, including the best and worst sign-up systems as well as tips for snagging that spot once you’re there.
First, find out if you’re eligible
To find out if you are eligible for the jab, head to the state’s “Am I Eligible” website and input the required information. The portal will ask about age, essential worker status and any conditions that can lead to a compromised immune system. Residents can also call 1-833-NYS-4-VAX to find out if they are eligible, check the city’s website or refer to the below list:
- Healthcare workers
- Education workers, including childcare staff and college professors providing in-person instruction
- Public transit employees, including airline workers, subway and mass transit employees and TLC drivers.
- Hotel workers who have direct contact with staff
- Workers at grocery stores, including bodegas and convenience stores, and restaurant employees
- First responders, including firefighters, police officers and support staff
- Corrections workers
- Workers for congregate care settings, including nursing homes and homeless shelters
- People with underlying health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses.
- New Yorkers over the age of 65
Other at-risk groups and more essential workers, to be determined by the state, will be added to the eligibility list in the coming months. All New Yorkers are expected to be eligible by the summer.
How to find help booking a COVID vaccine appointment in NYC
Because the city and state systems are so confounding, ad hoc networks of good Samaritans have created their own online portals and programs to connect New Yorkers with appointments.
Here are some of the places to start before you even trying to navigate the booking sites directly:
Epicenter-NYC started as a newsletter for Jackson Heights, Queens during the height of the pandemic, and now is a hub for a team of volunteers who find appointments for people and then sign them up.
“We felt like the greatest service we could provide is helping people navigate this Byzantine system of securing a vaccine appointment and it was very much by word of mouth,” Kalita, the newsletter’s publisher, told The Post.
Its volunteers have figured out ways to “game” the system and readily find appointments for those in need — but even then it often takes multiple helpers searching for just one person, she said.
People can sign up to get an appointment scheduled for them by filling out Epicenter-NYC’s form.
NYC Vaccine List
NYC Vaccine List searches over 200 vaccine sites across the city and lists appointments as they become available in real-time, in one place.
Although users ultimately still have to grapple with the various inoculation locations’ sign-up systems, it cuts out the hard part of finding which have open slots at the right time.
Dan Benamy, a Brooklyn software developer, created the website with a team of volunteers after signing up his grandparents for vaccines and realizing how difficult it was.
“The appointments get booked but more come online everyday and throughout the day,” Benamy told The Post of his page.
“We do hear a lot from people who keep an eye on the site and refresh it and are regularly able to find appointments, so I know it can be frustrating going on there and not finding something right away, but folks need a little morale boost. Keep at it, they will find appointments.”
Users can toggle between locations and whether or not the site has appointments for second doses. People under the age of 65 can also filter out pharmacy appointments, which only gives jabs to older residents, and there is a map tool that shows availability close to home.
Software engineer Huge Ma created the service in two weekends for $50 after trying to sign his mom up for a shot — and says he has helped tens of thousands of people score slots since, according to The Guardian.
The federal government recently rolled out its own map-based tool for finding shots across the country called VaccineFinder.
Eventually the service is supposed to show all vaccine locations, but right now that functionality only exists in a handful of states — and New York is not one of them, per Fox News.
Currently, it only points to federal vaccine locations in the Empire State, which largely means pharmacies. But it’s a good way to see which independent drug store are offering jabs, and also shows which outlets have doses in stock. You can also search for one specific type of vaccine, like just Pfizer or just Johnson & Johnson.
How to book a COVID vaccine appointment in NYC online
Through the City of New York
New York City’s Vaccine Finder displays both city- and privately-run locations like pharmacies and local clinics on a map — though users still need to click out to the various sign-up pages for each site.
Be prepared to sit around and press refresh over and over again if you’re picky about your location and time slot.
And to sign up at one of the city-run locations, you’ll need to go through the rigamarole of entering all your personal information each time you try to score an available appointment.
“For a lay person, you have to input your information, it’ll say no appointments available and you have to refresh and then you have to input your information all over again,” said Kalita.
“You’re filling out more than a dozen pieces of information only to be told over and over there’s no appointments available… if you input that information all over again, only to be thwarted every time, at some point you’ll say it’s impossible to get a vaccine.”
The vaccine finder also doesn’t allow residents to filter out what type of appointments they need, so the options are flooded with pharmacy slots — which are currently only available to older residents — and sites that only offer specifically first or second doses.
“The real shortage right now, especially in Manhattan, is for people who are under 65 with underlying conditions and essential workers, and that’s the people who need the most help finding sites,” Levine noted.
George Hagstrom, a volunteer with Epicenter-NYC, said new appointments tend to drop on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon for the city-run vaccine hubs. For the city’s Health and Hospital sites, they often come just after midnight.
Through the New York State website
The state’s online system is only for its handful of locations — which include hubs at the Javits Center in Manhattan and Aqueduct racetrack in Queens — but is more streamlined and integrated that the city’s.
To sign up for a vaccine appointment, start with the Am I Eligible page. Once it has established that you are eligible, a list of available sites, and their distance from your zip code, will pop up and you can click through to see open appointments.
A volunteer from the “Covid Vaccine Help” Facebook page wrote Monday that new appointments appear to be loaded every six minutes, starting at two minutes past the beginning of each hour.
“To be clear the times are: :02 :08 :14 :20 :26 :32 :38 :44: :50 :56,” the post reads.
“:02 and :32 are the most consistent. It’s not the second the [minute] hits but 15-30 secs after.”
Sarah Kulkarni, a volunteer with Epicenter-NYC, has found refreshing the state’s page over and over until a slot shows up to be the most effective method, but advised to “quickly scroll past” the first appointments that appear, as they are “always snagged by bots” — computer scripts people have written to automatically reserve slots.
“Book first and figure out if it works later. You can always cancel if it’s truly a conflict,” Kulkarni wrote in a blog post.
Though a big chain pharmacy
Several pharmacy chains are currently offering the vaccine — though so far only to residents age 65 and older. President Biden announced Tuesday that teachers and child care workers would also be eligible starting this month.
While the interface itself is quite smooth, many users have recently complained online about hitting a roadblock because the site requires them to book their first- and second-dose appointments at the same time — but no second-dose slots have been available.
For Rite Aid, start with its vaccine scheduler. The eligibility screening is simple enough, but finding appointments is more cumbersome. Unlike Walgreens — which shows you all available slots in your area on one page — you will be asked to put in a zip or neighborhood, and then shown a list of local stores. You must then click into each one to see if appointments are available, repeating the process store by store
CVS is not currently offering coronavirus vaccines at its New York City stores, but does have them at locations on Long Island and upstate.
How to book an appointment by phone
For those who’d rather not sit in front of a computer refreshing a screen all day, the city and state each have COVID-19 vaccine hotlines where you can set up appointments at sites they control.
The state operates 19 facilities from the Big Apple to North Country, including the Javits Center in Manhattan, Jones Beach, SUNY Albany and the state fairgrounds in Syracuse. Residents need to call 1-833-NYS-4-VAX to set up an appointment.
The city also operates dozens of sites across the five boroughs. To make an appointment by phone, residents can call 1-877-VAX-4-NYC.
For the vaccine site at the Fort Washington Armory in Washington Heights specifically, appointments can be made by phone at 646-838-0319, where bilingual operators are available. The majority of slots at the site are reserved for specific zip codes in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx.
New Yorkers who are eligible to be vaccinated at a pharmacy may be able to call their local stores to make an appointment, but appointments by phone are not possible at Walgreens, Duane Reade or any of the big chains.
Other tips and tricks for finding a COVID vaccine in NYC
Maya, an Upper West Sider who goes by the moniker “The Appointment Whisperer” and didn’t want to share her last name, set up alerts on Twitter pages run by bots that post available appointments so she can help others sign up.
“Basically as soon as the alert pops up, I click on it, that’s it, I don’t wait, if it comes I’m immediately clicking on it,” she advised.
People can reach out to Maya for appointment help in the five boroughs by emailing AppointmentWhisperer@gmail.com.
“It feels like decades worth of training with Ticketmaster concert ticket sales, I finally have a skillset that I can put it to good use with,” she quipped.
She said she was able to help a restaurant worker, and his father who’s battling cancer, set up an appointment by waiting for a Twitter alert.
“His phone is in his pocket and he’s serving people and he’s not going to see it right away and even if he sees it three minutes later, everything’s gone,” the appointment expert explained.
“After I got all of this details, I was able to book them.”
Here are a few more tips:
- Follow @NYCVaccinate and @TurboVax on Twitter and set up alerts for them. The handles automatically post appointments in the five boroughs as they become available.
- Join the Facebook pages Covid Vaccine Help – New York and New York / Connecticut Vaccine Hunters and Angels to find people to help you, learn more about open appointments or share tips on scoring slots.
- In Manhattan, a city-run site at 125 Worth St. allows people to sign up for standby lists. If you’re flexible, sign up and pop in when someone cancels. They’ll give you a call.
- Use the browser extension “Page Refresh” — it automatically refreshes a page for you so you don’t have to keep clicking. But make sure to turn it off when you find an appointment so it doesn’t get lost.
- Set up “autofill” in your browser so you don’t have to repeatedly type in your information.
- Be patient. The Appointment Whisperer says perseverance will pay off: “It may feel hopeless and it may feel horrible but there’s people out there that are willing to help.”