Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

02 Mar 2021, 18:55 p.m.

Getting My First COVID-19 Vaccine In New York City

On Saturday night I received my first vaccination dose against COVID-19. I've had minimal side effects and the appointment went very smoothly. Here's a longish post about eligibility in New York, booking the appointment, and how the process went.

You might be eligible, too

Me, wearing a mask with chemical symbols on it, near a poster saying 'Get a Free COVID-19 Vaccine Here! Appointment needed; schedule and learn more at nyc.gov/vaccinefinder 877-VAX-4NYC'If you live in New York, it is very much worth looking at the eligibility criteria in detail. The current groups eligible for vaccination include new groups added within the last couple of weeks, including people with several health conditions. The conditions include several that I think people skimming may have overlooked. For instance, moderate-to-severe asthma, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and hypertension are on the list. "Severe obesity (body mass index of 40 kg/m2 or higher), obesity (body mass index of between 30 kg/m2 and 40 kg/m2)" is on the list; I know a strength and conditioning coach whose BMI qualifies for that, just in case you're feeling unhappy about also being in that category (BMI: an extremely flawed measure). And "Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities including Down Syndrome," too, which probably include Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which I only realized because of folks talking about that on Twitter.*

If you have one of those health conditions: as the official guidelines on eligibility proof say:

You do not need documentation from your personal health care provider or any other proof of your condition to get a vaccine in NYC. It is only necessary for you to self-certify you have an underlying condition that makes you eligible. You will be asked to self-certify as part of the appointment scheduling process, or a vaccine provider will ask you to complete the below certification document before or at the time of your appointment.

And! As of today, eligible groups include

  • Regional food bank paid or unpaid workers
  • Food pantry paid or unpaid workers
  • Permitted home-delivered meal program paid or unpaid workers

(If I know you personally I'll share why I'm eligible.)

Getting and preparing for the appointment

Once I realized I was eligible, I used TurboVax as an easy way to see when new vaccine appointments were available. I happened to refresh again one day and saw appointments available at Brooklyn Army Terminal. I'm glad I followed the TurboVax advice on having forms filled out ahead of time; I had several rounds of clicking on a time and immediately being told it was not available, then finally nabbed one.

I read the info sheet about the Moderna vaccine and followed the electronic instructions to fill out some patient info and consent forms online. And I made a to-do list ahead of my appointment: print out the appointment info, grab proof of my eligibility, fill out and print the confirmation that I filled out the day-of-vaccine online form, bring my insurance card and government ID, bring some proof of NYC residency just in case they wanted additional confirmation beyond my ID, and - since people on Twitter had reported 3-hour waits in the past few days at the Brooklyn Army Terminal location - prep for a long wait in an outdoors queue (water and a snack, a charged phone and power brick, a few fresh podcasts downloaded). And I assumed I would need to take a cab there and back, so my list also included ensuring I had a means to pay for those cabs. But a friend who is vaccinated and who has a car volunteered to drive me there and back!

Nearly no wait

We arrived like 45 minutes early and there was NO LINE. I did have to fill out about 1 page of paperwork that felt duplicative (maybe many people do not fill out the online stuff). How it went (all people I interacted with were wearing masks -- I think they were all women, by the way):

  • Arrived and was immediately given a form and a pen; took maybe 3 min to fill it out.
  • As soon as I was done, a worker walked me to a small standalone room -- kind of reminded me of a portable classroom from when I was in high school, but much smaller -- and another worker asked me some questions, took my ID and insurance card for a moment, took the form and eligibility proof, and typed a bunch of stuff into the electronic health records system. Also, she showed me available dates and times for my second dose, I chose one, and she scheduled it. This whole bit took maybe 5-10 minutes.
  • As soon as that step was done, a worker walked me to another room elsewhere in the grid, divided in half by a curtain. A person at a computer was supposed to do one last bit of electronic health record stuff, I think, but seemed to be having trouble finding the right desktop icon to click. The clinician? finished with the person she was dosing on the other side of the curtain, and did the electronic health record stuff herself, and filled out the paper vaccination record card that I can take with me. And she injected me (with the Moderna vaccine), which felt about as painful as accidentally scratching my skin with my fingernail. I spent maybe 5-10 minutes in this room total.
  • One of those workers walked me to the observation tent where patients waited 15 minutes in case we had a bad reaction to the vaccine. Some people sat quietly or talked with (I assume) the person they came with; some of us chitchatted with the clipboard-wielding workers, who every once in a while called someone's name to tell us we were free to go.
  • I had been texting my friend throughout to let him know how fast things were going; once I was outside (at the well-lit and guarded entrance), I called him and he came from where he had parked and picked me up. It was now just about time for my originally scheduled appointment, and now I was already done!

On my way home I started feeling a little tingling at the injection site, and later that evening, some mild soreness. Sunday I had some more soreness in the upper arm (that felt like a muscle ache from exercise) and I went to bed a bit early and slept for about 10 hours, and Monday I had some mild soreness. Over the course of today I'd say the soreness has completely faded away. I've been able to do my usual workouts Sunday, Monday, and today without trouble.

(This is perfect, because to me the perfect level of side effects for this is "very mild, but just enough that I viscerally feel like it's working.")

I feel very happy about having gotten the first vaccine dose and it's been excellent for my mood, but talking more about that here feels like taunting the people who haven't been able to get it yet, so I won't dwell on that.

New Yorkers:

It's worth taking a fresh look at the current groups eligible for vaccination, including various health conditions, because some of those items may surprise you. And if you are eligible, it's worth taking a little look at TurboVax once in a while to see whether new appointments pop up that you could snag. Right now, TurboVax and an official state tracker say that there are first dose appointments available starting in April at Medgar Evers for Brooklyn residents.

I am so grateful for all of the infrastructure that got me/us here.


* There is no canonical list of intellectual and developmental disabilities recognized by New York State for the purpose of vaccine eligibility, as far as I can tell. I checked several pages within CDC's web content that cover developmental disabilities (including a COVID-specific page), called a New York vaccination helpline (the worker escalated and searched and got no definitive answer), and have now called one of my state-level legislators to suggest that they clarify this. Maybe they should coordinate with the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and the Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs Program, or maybe they should just point to the closest thing to a canonical list I found on the CDC's site -- I don't know what the answer is, but there needs to be some kind of way for people with various conditions to check whether they're eligible before turning up for the vaccination and maybe being told they're not!

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