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Expansion of COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility to Individuals 65 and Older, Those with Underlying Conditions Frequently Asked Questions

January 19, 2021; Updated 3/12/2021

The Pennsylvania Department of Health today announced two additional categories of eligible individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccination as part of Phase 1A.

Beginning Tuesday, January 19, all individuals 65 and older, and individuals ages 16-64 with certain medical conditions, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that increase the risk of severe illness from the virus, are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination. Those conditions are outlined by the CDC and are listed below:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines.
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
  • Severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

Otherwise these underlying conditions do not include the conditions that "might" cause someone to be at increased risk. At this time, only the Pfizer-BioNTech product is approved for those age 16 and 17.

How do I determine if I'm eligible for a vaccine?

With initial supplies limited, the COVID-19 vaccine is being given to those most at-risk of illness and exposure. Currently, vaccines are available to health care workers both paid and unpaid, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, individuals over 65, and individuals 16-64 with certain medical conditions as defined by the CDC that increase the risk of severe illness. Those conditions include:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies​
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines.
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
  • Severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

You can also use the quiz on the Pennsylvania Vaccine Provider Map to see if you are currently eligible.

How do I locate a vaccine provider?

If you are part of a group that is currently eligible for vaccination, use the Pennsylvania Vaccine Provider Map to find a place to schedule your vaccine. At this time, vaccination providers can include hospitals, federally qualified health centers and pharmacies.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is working to ensure providers with vaccine have information publicly available for those currently eligible to be vaccinated. This map will be updated as more locations receive vaccine. Although a provider may have received vaccine, there is no guarantee that they have open appointments. Check back frequently as the map will be updated multiple times per week.

If you have questions about the vaccination process or are having trouble using the map to locate a provider, please call the Pennsylvania Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258. (Note: Philadelphia County is a separate vaccine jurisdiction and has its own information about vaccine distribution.)

How do I make an appointment?

Contact information and registration instructions for each enrolled vaccine provider can be found by clicking on each vaccine provider's pin on the Pennsylvania Vaccine Provider Map. Contact the vaccine provider of your choice directly to schedule an appointment. Note: If you show up at a site without an appointment, you will not receive a vaccine.

What should I do if I can't find an appointment?

The federal government determines how much vaccine Pennsylvania receives and supply is very limited. Even if you are eligible, an appointment may not be immediately available to you due to significantly limited vaccine availability. Pennsylvania is developing a large network of enrolled vaccination provider sites to serve those currently eligible for vaccination. The vaccine provider map is being updated regularly, so please keep checking for new locations with vaccine supply and checking with vaccine providers for available appointments.

Do I need to bring proof of eligibility when I go to my appointment?

It is recommended that individuals bring proof of eligibility to the vaccination site. This may include an employee ID card, a letter from an employer or affiliated organization, or a pay stub, depending on the specific priority status. If you are eligible because of your age, bring an ID that includes your date of birth (like a driver's license or passport). Individuals qualifying because of underlying medical conditions are not required to bring proof of medical conditions to obtain a vaccine, but you should talk to your provider beforehand to see if vaccination is appropriate for you.

What should I expect at my vaccine appointment?

When you get the vaccine, you and the person administering the vaccine will both need to wear masks that cover your nose and mouth. You will receive a vaccination card that tells you which COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it, and where you received it. The card also will remind you to return for your second dose, and you should take the card with you when you receive your second dose so that vaccination can be documented on the card as well.

How long should I wait in between my first and second shot?

There are two kinds of vaccines authorized for COVID-19. One is manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, and one is manufactured by Moderna.

  • For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, you should wait 3 weeks (or 21 days) after your first shot.
  • For the Moderna vaccine, you should wait 1 month (or 28 days) after your first shot.

You should get your second shot as close to the recommended interval as possible. However, there is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine. You should not get the second dose earlier than the recommended interval. Even if you have side effects after the first shot, you should get the second shot unless a vaccination provider or your doctor tells you otherwise.

What if I experience side effects from the vaccine?

You may have some side effects, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. Most side effects should go away after a few days. Common side effects include pain on the arm where you got the shot, fever, chills, tiredness, and headache.

If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. To reduce pain or discomfort where you got the shot, apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area, and use or exercise your arm. To reduce your discomfort from fever, you can also drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly.
In most cases, discomfort from fever or pain is normal. Contact your doctor or healthcare provider if the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours, or if your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days.

Links:

Pennsylvania Vaccine Provider Map: https://www.pa.gov/guides/get-vaccinated/
CDC List of Qualifying Health Conditions: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html
Version 8 of the Interim Vaccination Plan: PA Interim Vaccine Plan