Update May 11: The state-run mass vaccination sites are accepting walk-ins, as are many other retail pharmacies. Learn more about the state's sites here, or contact your local pharmacy to confirm availability.
About 2 million Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A million more have received their first shots and likely have second shots booked.
But on Monday, April 19, the remaining adult population will become eligible to sign up for a vaccine appointment. Anyone who lives or works in Massachusetts, age 16 and older, will now be able to get the shot. The state estimates about 1.7 million people will become eligible on this day (they had previously said it was 2.55 million people) — the largest group to get the go-ahead in one day. And on a state holiday, Patriots' Day, to boot.
Demand is sure to overwhelm supply at first. Gov. Charlie Baker is urging residents to be patient and expect that it may take a few weeks to lock down an appointment.
This past Tuesday, the CDC and FDA recommended a pause on the use of the J&J vaccine while they investigate after reports that six women who got the shot suffered blood clots. While that, of course, will affect the number of appointments available, Baker has said it's not a major disruption here because the state was mostly administering Moderna and Pfizer.
The state's online booking system had a few failures early on in the rollout, but Baker has reiterated that the website has been improved, and put under stress tests in preparation for expected spikes in traffic.
That said, there are still many ways to book vaccine appointments, and it can get a little confusing. We've gathered tips from Massachusetts residents who scored their slots and other resources to help make the process a little easier.
The advice of the day is to go all out: Keep searching, and make sure you're aware of all the options available to you.
Preregister With The State
First things first. The state's primary way of getting people vaccinated is through its mass vaccination sites. Head over to this website, and preregister to get a shot at one of the seven state-run, large-capacity sites, or at six regional collaboratives. (You can see the list of locations here.)
The state will contact you, via your preferred communication method, to book an appointment when a slot opens up. Then, you'll have 24 hours to confirm you want that appointment. It may take a little while for the state to tell you it's booking time, but you won't wait in radio silence. The system sends weekly emails confirming you're still on the list.
Baker has said that many people have used the preregistration system as a "safety valve" while they look for appointments at pharmacies, clinics or elsewhere. (Last week, about 300,000 of the 1.5 million people who preregistered canceled, indicating many of them found another appointment.)
If you're not content to sit and wait, there are more ways to hunt down an appointment. But hey, if you snag a slot elsewhere, be sure to cancel when the state comes knocking so someone else can take your place.
Check out the state's vaccine appointment portal, where you'll find the majority of appointment locations and times. When looking, here are some suggestions:
- Look for appointments in the middle of the night, or very early morning.
- Consider where you're able to travel to ahead of time — if you have easy transportation or lots of time to kill, consider looking a little afield for an appointment. "Don't limit yourself in terms of locale," writes Stephen Benson, of Salem — who got his shots in Dartmouth. "If getting vaccinated is important to you, go the extra mile and make the time to go anywhere to get one."
- Use a computer instead of a smartphone (it's easier to put in all the information, and open pages in new tabs on the computer, according to many readers).
- Open links to possible appointments in a new tab (here's how to do that) in case it's booked by the time you get to the page, so you can get back to the main page and find a different time.
- Have your insurance information ready (but remember, you can still book an appointment if you do not have insurance).
- Be persistent! "Keep refreshing your screen until you are successful," says Nina Ferry, of West Tisbury.
There are vaccine appointments at certain CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Costco and Osco locations. You can find what retail locations near you are providing vaccines via this state-run website, but will be redirected to each store's individual website to book. (Some folks recommend making an account — or tracking down your old password — ahead of time to make the sign-up process faster.)
Many of our readers wrote in to say that they found success booking a vaccine appointment by checking pharmacy websites often, and very early in the morning. Mike Lewis, of Hingham, said that he and his wife found that Walgreens' website updated with new appointments on the hour.
Two readers told us that they used a very specific trick while booking on the CVS website. Kristin Hall, of Weston, and Gideon Klionsky, of Somerville, say that once you get to the CVS website, choose a different state that you think might have appointments available (like Arizona or Wisconsin). Once you get through a few questions, you'll be able to specify your true preferred location. This is where you'll put your zip code, town, or even just type "Massachusetts."
"Because they are in such high demand, these slots don't last long, so it will usually appear that there are none, but you can get lucky as people cancel duplicate appointments or as new slots are added several days out," says Klionsky. There's an explainer post on how to follow their suggestion here, but no promises it wasn't a short-term glitch that's getting fixed.
Pick Up The Phone / Check With Your Health Care Providers
Check with your local boards of health, health care providers or community health centers. Certain towns, hospitals and providers are offering the vaccine, however, you may need to be a resident or a patient there. For example, here's a rundown of various places to get the vaccine for Boston residents.
"Don't rely exclusively on the state's website," Lorelle Croall, of Quincy, told us. "Check neighborhood and community health centers as they often have their own registration pages and aren't included in the states results."
Native American residents can contact their tribal health departments, the North American Indian Center of Boston, IHS, or Indian Affairs Commissioner Anderson, according to Raquel Halsey, executive director of NAICOB.
Also, if you're not able to make an appointment online because of computer or internet issues, the state set up a hotline at 2-1-1 to help.
Rely On The Kindness Of Strangers (And The Internet)
Various social media accounts and websites are keeping track of appointments opening up.
The one tip I've heard most often is to follow @vaccinetime on Twitter. Created by Dan Cahoon, the Twitter bot scrapes the state's website to notify followers when appointments pop up.
There's also a Twitter account specifically for locations in the Pioneer Valley: @ValleyVax.
Keep an eye on websites like: macovidvaccines.com (follow on Twitter at @macovidvaccines or sign up for text notifications), vaccinatema.com, and vaccinespotter.com. It's a quicker way to see what locations across the state have availability. You can go to macovidvaccinefinder.org to sign up for emailed alerts when new appointments pop up.
For a little more assistance, look for a "vaccine hunter." Since the rollout began, a lot of self-proclaimed "vaccine hunters" have begun helping strangers secure their shots.
"Hunters are donating their time often in the wee hours to schedule vaccines for any who is eligible and struggling," says Anne Gierahn, of Brookline, who says she's scheduled over 100 appointments for people.
A lot of these groups will offer to book the appointment for you, or, if you don't want to share your personal information, give you a hand on booking it yourself. Readers have suggested checking out macovidvaxhelp.com, emailing <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or joining various Facebook communities — most popularly Vaccine Hunters / Angels Massachusetts, Massachusetts COVID Vaccine Info and Support, Massachusetts Vaccine Hunters and Assistance.
Insurance And ID
You *do not* need to have health insurance or an ID to get the vaccine. Almost all clinics will ask for one or both of these things, but do not be deterred if you don't have them! The state is ensuring the vaccine is available to everyone regardless of insurance or immigration status. Clinics ask for your ID in order to confirm your name in the vaccination system, but you do not need to provide it. The Department of Public Health will maintain a record of your vaccination, but the database is kept as confidential as a medical record with a doctor.
Additionally, the state says getting a vaccine will not negatively impact a person's immigration status. "The federal government has confirmed that it will not consider COVID-19 treatment (including a vaccine) as part of a determination of whether someone is a 'public charge' or as it relates to the public benefit condition for certain individuals seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if the vaccine is paid for by Medicaid or other federal funds."
One caveat: Some clinics are only providing vaccines to residents of certain cities or towns, so they may want to verify your residence if you go to one of those sites.
Massachusetts allows extra shots to go to those who are not signed up for an appointment in order not to waste doses. Check with your local clinic to find out if you could be added to a standby list.
There is also a website, Dr. B, that tries to match clinics with extra doses to people who could get them.
Go To New Hampshire
Starting on April 19, New Hampshire plans to open up vaccine eligibility to people who don't live in New Hampshire. Yes, you read that right. Sign up through the state-run vaccination site: vaccines.nh.gov.
Beware Of Vaccine Scams
Scammer sites have been popping up. To protect yourself, here are some things to look out for:
- Pay attention to the address bar. If you see the "s" dropped from the web address https://www.maimmunizations.org/, then it is not the correct site. Another clue that a website may be a scam is if it uses http:// instead of https:/
- You will not be asked to make a payment or for your social security information during the sign-up process, even if there are claims to give you early access. (You may be asked for your social security information via some websites when making the appointment, but the question is optional.)
- Most vaccine sites are not going to call you. Be wary of anyone offering vaccines unless the call is from a trusted source like your doctor's office or a community health center.
- If you think you've fallen victim to a vaccine scam, contact the Attorney General's Office.
Best of luck! Remember to take care of yourself after getting the shot; you may not feel great for a day or so afterward. And keep wearing your masks!
This article was originally published on April 16, 2021.