Lucky enough to score a COVID vaccine? What to expect at your appointment, step by step

Howard Cohen
·7 min read

So you are one of the lucky who managed to get an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination?

Good for you. We’re sure it wasn’t easy to log on and actually get the system to accept your request. Getting that confirmation email, text or phone call must have felt like winning the lottery.

Experiences in South Florida

For weeks, Lucy Jackson, 70, had a hard time getting an appointment. She finally lucked out on Sunday when she signed on to Miami-Dade County’s website to book an appointment at Zoo Miami in West Kendall.

“Best experience I ever had,” said a relieved Jackson. No line, she said. Just a couple of cars ahead of her when she arrived just after 11:15 a.m. Monday. “Was clear and so well organized.”

The Zoo Miami experience wasn’t a zoo.

Jackson said she was was directed by a police officer at check-in and guided to drive to her place in line. At check-in, a volunteer joked as Jackson showed her ID that she couldn’t possibly qualify for a vaccine in Florida’s first wave of seniors 65 and over. “The girl said ‘you are not that age,’ Jackson said, chuckling.

The vaccine — Moderna, in this case — was shot into Jackson’s arm as she sat in her car.

Jackson was then told to drive to a space less than a block away at the zoo to wait the required 15 minutes to make sure there were no adverse reactions that could require immediate medical attention.

Another police officer gave her the go-ahead to leave. Jackson had an appointment card in hand for her second appointment, in February.

On Tuesday, Jackson said she had some swelling and pain at the injection site but no other after effects. “The pain was just like I had a shot over there.”

Jackson’s experience seems common. Major pain to get the appointment. But, once successful, relief.

“Since the senior citizens vaccinations’ rollout, most articles have dealt with failures and chaos. But my husband, myself and other members of my family were vaccinated at Jackson South and the process was expeditious and perfectly coordinated. It bodes well for a public hospital that has such efficient personnel,” Olga Incera wrote in an email to the Miami Herald.

Jackson added that her brother-in-law and his wife had to wait longer than two hours at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday.

Tropical Park’s rough start earlier this month seems to have found its footing. Millie Radlauer and her son-in-law were turned away despite having an appointment and driving down to the West Miami-Dade park from Boca Raton on Jan. 9.

Radlauer’s daughter Lynn Lubell went from pronouncing the site “a zoo” in a phone call to the Miami Herald to feeling relief and joy a few hours later when she drove her mom back to get a shot. Miami-Dade County’s Mayor’s Office got involved to smooth out opening-day bugs.

“The people down here were absolutely wonderful,” Lubell ultimately said. “Extraordinary.”

On Sunday, January 3, 2021 motorists line-up for COVID-19 vaccination shots for people who are 65 and older as site staffers assist at Vista View Park in Davie, Florida.
On Sunday, January 3, 2021 motorists line-up for COVID-19 vaccination shots for people who are 65 and older as site staffers assist at Vista View Park in Davie, Florida.

What you can expect at your appointment

Here’s what you need to know at that first and second appointment.

You will have received a confirmation with your appointment date, time and location most likely via email, text or phone call.

The confirmation will tell you what you need to know about your chosen location before you go. Some places are drive-thrus, like the parks and stadiums. Others, like hospitals, will likely have you park at a specific lot, and then step into a line to undergo the check-in process.

Some may tell you to arrive at a certain window of time before your appointment to keep the parking lots as uncluttered as possible. Jackson Health, for instance, tells its recipients not to arrive more than 30 minutes early because you can’t access the lot until 30 minutes before your appointment time.

Once inside, either in your car at a drive-thru or in a vaccine site, you will be asked for a government-issued photo ID to confirm your age. If you haven’t filled out all of your personal details online, or they need more information, a registrar may ask you some questions. There is no cost to receive the vaccine. Your tax dollars have paid for it.

Wear your mask to your appointment. Mask-mandates and social distancing applies.

Consider bringing a snack or water in case you have to wait in line for long. Many have reported that the whole process takes about 30 to 40 minutes. But at some drive-thrus, or as new sites come on board and work out the kinks, the wait can be a few hours.

If you need assistance, such as a wheelchair or other aid to help you through the line and stations, let an attendant know.

After you’re checked in, a staffer will direct you to the line to where you will receive your vaccination.

After your dose, you will be directed toward a waiting room or told where to move your car. You’ll have to sit in the waiting room or in your car in the designated space for about 15 to 20 minutes to make sure you have no serious side effects. Then you can leave.

Make sure you receive a card after you get your first dose before you head home. The administrator of the shot should hand it over and the second-dose appointment will have been made so you don’t have to go through the whole process again.

The card will tell you at least the date of your second required shot. In many places you have to get the second shot at the same location, although Publix will let you choose another location and date but you’d have to make an appointment on the website. And you can’t chose one vaccine over the other. If your site is dispensing Pfizer, that’s what you get. Ditto Moderna.

In a week or less you should receive an email, text or phone call to tell you the time of your second appointment.

Leonida Lipshy, RN, with the COVID-19 unit, holds the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Broward Health Imperial Point in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Wednesday, December 23, 2020.
Leonida Lipshy, RN, with the COVID-19 unit, holds the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Broward Health Imperial Point in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Wednesday, December 23, 2020.

How the order of vaccinations was determined

Most states have followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on who should get priority to receive a vaccine. Currently, there are two vaccines, Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna, and both require two doses, three weeks to one month apart, respectively.

These guidelines have included vaccinating healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents first in what is known as Phase 1a.

In Phase 1b, the CDC suggested frontline essential workers such as firefighters, police officers, grocery store workers, teachers and daycare workers could go next. Also, people aged 75 years and older in the general populace.

Phase 1c would include people 65 to 74 years of age and those 16 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions and other essential workers, such as people who work in food service, communications, media, public safety and public health.

The phases could overlap.

Afterward, as vaccine availability increases, recommendations would expand to include more groups.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis differed from CDC recommendations to mandate that seniors 65 and older would qualify ahead of essential workers or those younger with underlying conditions.

South Florida began taking appointments and administering the vaccine in early January at various sites. So far, these have included area hospitals such as Jackson Health, Mount Sinai, Baptist Health, UHealth, Memorial Healthcare and Broward Health. But Baptist had to cancel upcoming first dose appointments on Jan. 19 when administrators realized they would not have enough doses to meet demand and cited a statewide shortage of the vaccines.

More than 240 Publix stores in Florida also started administering Moderna, the COVID-19 vaccine. These include Publix supermarkets in Palm Beach County and Islamorada and Key West in Monroe. Miami-Dade and Broward counties are not yet on board.

At Publix, will you be in a long line to get COVID vaccine? Here’s how the process works

The Publix process is similar to the other sites where you enter a building rather than drive-thru. Publix is administering the vaccine injections inside the stores at the pharmacies if you’ve made an appointment online and received a confirmation. Publix is not conducting vaccinations via drive-thru. About 120 to 125 doses are given per day, said spokeswoman Maria Brous, and this way they have been able to manage the flow of customers through the stores.

Other public venues including Hard Rock Stadium, Tropical Park, Zoo Miami and numerous parks in Broward such as Markham, Vista View and Holiday have been dispensing doses via drive-thru appointments.