Tips on how to land a COVID-19 vaccine appointment in Michigan

Kim Kozlowski and Sarah Rahal, The Detroit News
·8 min read

Apr. 13—Asia Parker and Stephen Stocker were shoppingrecently at a Meijer in Grand Rapids when a store employee asked if they were interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

The husband and wife filled out paperwork and got their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in less than half an hour, they said.

"We were really lucky," said Parker, 26,of Grand Rapids. "It worked out perfectly."

Others may need more than luck to get the vaccine now that Michigan has expanded vaccine eligibility to residents age 16 and older and as state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin says demand is expected to outpace supply for weeks.

But there are many strategies to getting the vaccine, say those who have landed coveted appointments at retail stores, health systems, health departments and public venues such as the recently opened drive-thru vaccination center at the Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights.

Secret portals to the 'lifesaving dose'

Those without access to the internet can dial 2-1-1 for help registering.

Websites like GoodRx are tracking vaccine appointments across the country to help Americans secure doses quickly. Residents can sign up within minutes by inputting their phone number, ZIP code and date of birth to be notified of vaccine appointments near them at pharmacies including CVS.

For an appointment at a Meijer pharmacy, register here. Those who are able to drive to Ford Field in Detroit can sign up here. Vaccinations for people who show up without an appointment are unlikely, said Ford Field spokesman Mike Nowlin. The site is overbooking appointments by 10% to 15% daily to compensate for no-shows rather than relying on walk-ins.

Search through local health departments.

For those unsure of which clinic to attend turn to the Michigan Vaccine Spotter website to find specific brands of vaccine and currently available appointments or enter ZIP codes into VaccineFinder.org and any with an "in stock" checkmark are available to sign up right away.

The Vaccine Angels are a group of internet-savvy volunteers that help Michiganians on their Vaccine Hunters Facebook pages. Three pages cater to Michigan including Detroit Area Vaccine Hunters, West Michigan, and Northern Michigan.

The Angels have made 3,000 appointments for people without internet access or those who were struggling to make an appointment. They are mostly focused on residents age 50 and older, but founder Katie Monaghan said, "we will eventually get to everyone on our list."

"Michigan is vaccinating people in record numbers and there are still appointments available for those that still need their shot," Monaghan said. "It's definitely much easier to secure a COVID-19 vaccine appointment than it was just a short while ago. If anyone over 50 joins our list, we typically call them back later in the day with appointment details."

The group will be around for as long as it's needed, Monaghan said, but it is transitioning from helping older residents secure appointments to directing younger, tech-savvy people to resources to make appointments themselves.

Through Save My Shot, residents can sign up for a vaccine appointment at Beaumont, although people have to create a myBeaumont patient chart.

Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, chief of Clinical Services at Beaumont Health, said it's alarming to see its eight hospitals have already surpassed COVID-19 inpatient numbers recorded in November and December, even with the vaccine available to most residents.

There are some people who walk in and "in very rare instances towards the end of the day, we have extra vaccines," he said. "If you come in the middle of the day all the slots are taken but we're not going to waste anything we have at the end of the day."

There are currently 38,000 people on the Beaumont vaccine waitlist, but Fischgrund said he assumes some of them may have already been injected as many people are canceling appointments.

"So if you were to sign up now, you'd probably get a vaccine within a week or two," Fischgrund said. "It's much, much better than it was months ago."

Getting a vaccine is becoming easier as Michigan receives more doses, Fischgrund said, but there are still more people who want the vaccine than there is supply.

"But we will reach a point soon where the hesitancy people are going to be able to get a shot, but choose not to, and that's a very large concern especially with what's happening in Michigan currently," Fischgrund said. "This is our second-biggest surge, we haven't plateaued yet and the numbers are still going up with over 800 people in our system with COVID."

Fischgrund's message for people who don't yet have an appointment to be vaccinated?

"Please don't give up. The vaccine does have a few relatively minor side effects, but the effects of COVID are terrible," he said. "And as terrible as they are for you, they could be even worse for a family member, so please as soon as possible and as soon as you can, get the vaccine."

Insight from providers

Choosing the time of day to target an online search is not an exact science.

"The best advice is to check frequently, check daily and check in the morning," said Chris Savarese, a spokesman for Rite Aid, which is offering 40,000 doses every week of Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to customers at 1,900 of its 2,400 stores nationwide. "Ultimately, the morning is the best time. Try as early in the morning as you can and try throughout the day."

Walmart appointments are available online at Walmart and Sam's Club websites on a rolling 7-day basis, said spokeswoman Courtney Paulson.

"So, today, you can schedule appointments for Monday through Sunday, April 18. Tomorrow, you'll be able to schedule appointments for 4/13-4/20, and so on," she said.

'Persistence is key'

Persistence is key, say those who have found appointments.

"Like anything in life that is mathematical," said Dearborn Heights resident Ames Patterson, "the more times you try, the more chances you have for success."

Patterson and a group of 11 friends decided to devote a full day to getting an appointment to get the vaccine and approached it like a full-time job. They gathered virtually on Facebook at 8 a.m. on a recent morning, coffee in hand, and began looking for appointments.

Some only had a phone to search, others a tablet. But the group was focused as they searched online, made telephone calls and gave each other support with memes throughout the day. By 3 p.m., all had appointments.

"We all increased our odds by working it," said Patterson, 56. "We worked it like a job, like it really mattered. We decided that we were going to take charge."

While some sites offer walk-up options, making an appointment improves the chances of getting a shot, said Elizabeth Griem, administrator of Detroit Area Vaccine Hunters group.

"I haven't heard of much luck just walking up to get a vaccine at a random place," said Griem. "I have heard of people waiting for hours and at the day and being turned away. I've heard of people being accepted, no problem. It's kind of a crapshoot."

'The key is being flexible'

Being flexible is also important, said Clawson resident Liz Parker, who also volunteers with the Detroit Area Vaccine Hunters group.

Parker, 34, said she has helped more than 100 people find appointments. One of her co-workers needed help recently and she found her an appointment in less than an hour at a Kroger store.

"She lives in Oak Park and the appointment is in Grosse Pointe, so that's not too far," said Parker. "It's a little more challenging when people don't want to travel more than a few miles from their home. Also, a lot of times appointments come up that night or the next day. The key is being flexible."

Some people are staying up late and checking websites for new appointments at retailers such as Walgreens, CVSPharmacy, Rite Aid, Meijer, Kroger, Walmart and Snyder Drugs (for Upper Peninsula residents). Others say they are checking in the middle of the night, or throughout the day and constantly hitting refresh.

Some residents are traveling around the state or making a trek to Ohio to get a vaccine.

Farmington Hills resident Tracey Liphardt drove just under two hours round trip to get the Moderna vaccine last month at a Rite Aid store in Toledo after a co-worker mentioned how easy it was to get an appointment.

Liphardt, 50, said she wasn't rushing to get the shot because she felt others needed it before she did.

But when she logged on and found an appointment for the next day in Toledo, she grabbed it.

"When you get an opportunity you need, you take it," Liphardt said.

Taylor resident SteveKinney wanted to be sure to get his 86-year-old dad, Tom Kinney, vaccinated. He found him an appointment about a month ago at a Rite Aid store in Flint. He picked up his dad in Brighton and drove him to the retailer.

When Kinney arrived, the pharmacist told him someone had canceled and asked if he also would like to get the vaccine.

"I said, 'Yes let's do it,'" said Kinney, 54, who added that the round trip took just under three hours.

His wife, Tracy Kinney, got vaccinated at a Beaumont hospital and will soon get her second vaccine.

Kinney and his dad went back to Flint on Thursday to get their second shots.

"I just want this pandemic to go away," said Kinney. "I hope that this will help it. The world is crazy like this."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @kimberkoz