Key takeaways: 

  • Put your name on a waitlist, sign up for Twitter alerts, and register in advance if possible to reduce your wait for a vaccine appointment.
  • Arrive early for your appointment and plan on waiting an extra 15 minutes after your COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Some side effects such as muscle pain and fatigue are normal after you’re vaccinated. If symptoms persist or worsen, call your doctor.

There’s no shortage of information about COVID-19 vaccines, and it can be overwhelming. If you qualify for the coronavirus vaccine but aren’t sure what to do, this guide will answer commonly asked questions and provide helpful tips.

How can I schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment faster? 

You may have heard stories from people who’ve had to wait on the phone for hours just to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. Still others have lucked out and snagged an available spot because they were in the right place at the right time. Here are a few tips to help you cut through the red tape and speed up the process:

  • Sign up for Twitter alerts. Many municipalities such as Miami-Dade County in Florida post updates when vaccine appointments become available on their online portal. It’s easy and free to sign up. Go to, click “sign up” and follow the instructions. You can also “follow” a particular county health department to receive up-to-date COVID-19 information.
  • Check your local municipality for a vaccination locator. The County of San Diego’s COVID-19 site, for example, offers links to vaccination site maps, locations, and schedules.
  • Set up an online account on your health plan’s website. When more vaccines become available, your health insurance plan may make vaccination appointments available through the plan’s online scheduling portal.
  • Add your name to every waitlist you can. Some county health departments and healthcare systems have online waitlists you can join so you’ll be called as soon as an opening pops up.
  • Check out retail pharmacies. Pharmacies and grocery stores such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Publix, and Kroger have started in-store vaccinations at select locations. Their websites include information on COVID-19 vaccines to help you determine your eligibility and register for an appointment online.
  • Monitor your social media accounts. Online forums such as Facebook and can give you the inside scoop on local COVID-19 vaccine appointments and availability.

Following these tips may give you the edge you need to get to the front of the vaccination line if you meet the eligibility criteria in your area.

How should I prepare for my COVID-19 vaccine appointment?

So you’ve received the good news that you’re eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and have scheduled an appointment. How should you prepare? Here are some tips to help make your experience a smooth one:

  • Verify your vaccination site and appointment time. Make sure you have the correct address and appointment time.
  • Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. If you’re late, you may lose your appointment and not get vaccinated. Being on time is important so everyone in line for the vaccine can be taken care of promptly.
  • Bring your photo ID and proof of eligibility. Many state-operated vaccination sites require proof of age and eligibility.
  • Wear your mask and socially distance. Keep your mask on at all times during your appointment and stay six feet apart from others.
  • Scope out the site to see if there are restrooms nearby. Whether you’ll have to sit in a line or wait in your car, it’s a good idea to find out if the vaccination site will have portable toilets available for bathroom emergencies.
  • Bring a chair, water, and snacks. If you have back issues or other health problems it won’t hurt to bring a comfortable folding chair. Having bottled water on hand and a few snacks will also come in handy in case there’s a long wait.
  • If you’re disabled, let the staff at the site know. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires vaccination sites to accommodate people with disabilities, such as ensuring adequate space for wheelchairs and walkers.

If you start to have COVID-19 symptoms around the time of your vaccination appointment, call your healthcare provider before going to get your vaccination. If you’re experiencing fever or chills, shortness of breath, or a new loss of taste or smell, you may need a coronavirus test before you proceed.

Can I take aspirin or another OTC pain reliever before my vaccine appointment?

Most healthcare experts recommend against taking pain relievers before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. In a study published by the Journal of Virology, researchers found that drugs such as ibuprofen can reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, so it’s best to avoid taking pain relievers before your appointment. It’s okay to take one afterward if you’re experiencing discomfort.

Will I need to pay for the vaccine?

There is no cost for the vaccine because the federal government paid for it and doesn’t want money or insurance to be barriers that keep people from getting vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone who wants it.

What can I expect when I get the vaccine?

When you arrive for your appointment, you may be asked to provide a photo ID and/or proof of health insurance, depending on the testing site.

A licensed nurse or healthcare provider will clean the area on your arm where the coronavirus vaccine will be administered with rubbing alcohol. You’ll feel a quick poke and then it will be over. Your information will be recorded into a database and an appointment may be scheduled for your second dosage. You’ll likely be monitored for a short time after you’re vaccinated in case you experience an allergic reaction, so allow for extra time.

Lastly, you’ll be given a vaccination card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which includes your name, date, time, vaccination site, type of vaccine given, and the date your second dose is due. Healthcare officials need this information so they can track who’s received the vaccination and help ensure follow-up vaccination schedules are adhered to. You should keep this card in a safe place so you’ll have proof you’ve been vaccinated.

How will I know which coronavirus vaccine I received?

The brand and type of coronavirus vaccine you received will be written on your vaccination card. You should also be given a paper or electronic fact sheet from the pharmaceutical manufacturer with specific information about the COVID-19 vaccine you received. The fact sheet will help you understand the benefits and risks of the vaccine as well as resources if you want to learn more.

What are the most commonly reported side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?

While a COVID-19 vaccine protects against the coronavirus, it’s normal for you to experience some side effects. Many people won’t have any at all. According to the CDC, here are the most commonly reported side effects:

  • Pain or swelling in the area of vaccination
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Fever

In most cases, these side effects will go away after a day or two. However, if you have tenderness or swelling in your arm for more than 24 hours or other symptoms, such as a high fever that won’t go away, call your healthcare provider. If you experience a severe allergic reaction immediately following your appointment, go to your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1.

One side effect you won’t get is the virus itself. It’s medically impossible for you to contract COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Can I get COVID-19 right after being vaccinated?

Although the vaccine itself won’t cause the virus, no vaccinations are 100% effective, so it is possible to get COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. Currently, both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines require a second dose to achieve maximum protection.

The CDC explains it takes a few weeks for our bodies to develop immunity, so it’s possible to be infected and spread the virus just before or after being vaccinated. The CDC found a small number of individuals may already have COVID-19 at the time of their vaccination and be unaware or asymptomatic.

When will I receive my second dose of the vaccine?

Your second dose should be scheduled approximately three or four weeks after your first vaccine. For Moderna’s vaccine, the recommended vaccine schedule is two shots 28 days apart. For Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, you can expect to wait 21 days between your first and second doses.

Do I still need to socially distance and wear a mask after getting the second dose of the vaccine?

Yes. Since most vaccines are up to 95% effective, there’s always a chance you could be exposed to COVID-19 or one of its variants and fall ill. To be safe and protect others, you should keep wearing a mask and remain socially distant (at least six feet apart). Of course, hand washing and using hand sanitizer is still highly recommended.

How long after the second vaccine dose will it take to build full immunity?

This is a new virus and immunity varies from person-to-person, so there is no exact timeline to determine full immunity. Evidence collected so far suggests it takes at least a few weeks. Research continues, and as new data emerges, the CDC will update its public health information platforms.

The bottom line

Keep up with the latest COVID-19 news, sign up for important alerts and vaccination waitlists, and schedule an appointment as soon as you become eligible. Don’t take aspirin or other over-the-counter pain relievers before your vaccine, watch for persistent side effects afterward, and call your healthcare provider if you have any immediate concerns.