Philly’s coronavirus response

FAQ: Your guide to getting a COVID-19 vaccine in Philadelphia

You’ve got questions, we’ve got quick and easy answers.

vaccinestickers-philly
Bria Spivey / City of Philadelphia

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


More than a million Philadelphians have gotten at least one vaccine shot to protect them from catching COVID-19.

If you want to join them, or you’re looking to assist a colleague, friend, family member, or citymate who’s trying to join the vaccinated ranks, this guide can help.

In the FAQ below, you’ll find more info who’s providing vaccine in Philly, how to find an appointment, what to expect when you get there, what the city’s doing for vulnerable populations, and who’s eligible. As of April 16, all residents are eligible — though you have to be 16 or older to get the Pfizer vaccine and 18 or older for Moderna.

Just being eligible doesn’t mean you’ll immediately score an appointment, but the city’s FEMA sites are now accepting walk-ups.

If you want something pre-scheduled, you might have to fill out multiple registries. You can also seek help via volunteer websites and Facebook groups. If you’re struggling with any part of the process, including adding your name to Philadelphia’s main registry, you can reach the city by calling 311. Staffers should be able to walk you through it.

Don’t see your question answered below? Send us an email.


Jump to a section


The J&J vaccine pause

All vaccine providers in Philadelphia have paused use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following new FDA guidance issued on April 13.

The federal government recommended temporarily halting its use because of a “rare and severe” type of blood clotting that was seen in six J&J vaccine recipients out of the 6.8 million doses administered so far. Though the side effect appears to have a one in a million chance of occurring, mistreating it could make it worse, said CDC health officials, explaining that the pause is needed to “prepare the health care system” for patients.

What does this mean for Philly residents?

If you had an appointment at a different Philly clinic that was supposed to use the J&J vaccine, you should receive “notification of a chance,” city health officials said. You’ll either be rescheduled for a new day, or be given a different kind of shot when you go.

The FEMA site at the Pa. Convention Center, which had been about to switch to the J&J vaccine, will move forward with Pfizer instead. It will maintain its 6,000-dose daily pace. That’s good news, because the clinic has been providing about a third of all doses administered in the city. If you already had an appointment there, it should be good to go.

There’s a smaller FEMA-staffed site in Hunting Park at Esperanza. It also switched to the Pfizer vaccine. The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium is switching all of its clinics to the Moderna vaccine.

The community clinics run by the Philadelphia Fire Dept. will be closed through at least April 19.

Back to top ⤴️

Who is eligible in Philly right now?

All residents are now eligible to get vaccinated. You have to be 16 or older to get the Pfizer vaccine, and 18 or older for Moderna.

Back to top ⤴️

Where can I make an appointment?

The official way to get a COVID vaccine appointment in Philly is to enroll in the city’s registry — either online or by calling 311.

Everyone who signs up on that list will eventually be contacted by the health department, which will reach out via phone and email with an invite to schedule at a nearby clinic. People are selected for invitation via a randomized process that oversamples residents from undervaccinated ZIP codes. Appointments via this system will be scheduled all over the city.

If that’s not working for you, or you don’t want to wait, try reaching out to your health care provider. Some health centers are offering the vaccine to their current patients. Think spots like Penn Medicine and the Mazzoni Center — wherever you receive regular care.

You could also check the websites of pharmacies that are distributing the doses. Places like Rite Aid and CVS are offering online scheduling for appointments — though you have to catch them when there happen to be slots available.

Vaccine appointments open sporadically at other health centers and pop-up clinics. If you want to keep your finger on the pulse, you can monitor local vaccination websites like Vaccinate PA, Find a Shot and Vaccine Finder. Some kind souls in local Facebook groups are serving as “vaccine matchmakers” — so if you join, you can ask for their help securing a spot.

Some vaccination sites also accept walk-ups. All of the clinics run by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium operate this way, with no advance appointments. And the various community clinics run by the city health department sometimes open their doors to same-day visitors who live in the neighborhood, if they think there might be doses left over.

There’s also the potential to get your vaccine appointment outside Philadelphia. Pharmacies in other Pennsylvania counties sometimes have online openings, and often don’t check residency, which follows CDC guidance. Per state and city data, approximately one sixth of Philly residents have done this so far.

Back to top ⤴️

Which vaccination sites are accepting walk-ups?

FEMA is operating two sites for the Philadelphia Department of Health, and both accept a limited number of walk-ups. These are intended to serve people who can’t easily access the internet and don’t feel comfortable calling 311.

At the FEMA Convention Center clinic, staff schedules about 3,000 appointments each day, leaving 3,000 slots open for people who walk up between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. At the FEMA North Philly Esperanza clinic, staff is scheduling around 500 appointments, leaving 500 slots open for walk-ups (hours change daily). You must be a city resident to get your shot at these sites.

Philly residents 65 and older can also look into the “Walk-up Wednesdays” at three city-run sites. These are happening at Health Center 3 Annex on Chester Avenue, the Berks Street Annex (aka Health Center 5), and Health Center 10 on Cottman Avenue. Supply is limited, so it’s not a guarantee you’ll get in.

All of the clinics run by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium are walk-up only, with no appointments.

Back to top ⤴️

Is it free to get vaccinated?

Yes! The COVID vaccine is being funded by the federal government — so you don’t need insurance or dollars to get immunized.

If you do have insurance, the provider will bill your insurance company, which isn’t allowed to charge you a copay or bill you later.

Back to top ⤴️

I need help getting to my appointment

If you’re getting your shot from one of the clinics in the city, peep this handy map to find out where it is. There’s also a searchable list of all the sites, with addresses displayed.

If you’re going to one of the clinics run by the health department, check this city-created map that displays the best bus, subway, train and trolley routes you can take to get to each one.

SEPTA pro-tip: People 65 and older ride for free.

There’s also SEPTA’s Customized Community Transportation program, a free option that transports seniors and those with limited mobility directly from their home to their destination. Call 48 hours in advance of your appointment, and you can schedule a ride by dialing 3-1-1 and selecting Option 5 between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Back to top ⤴️

I have disabilities. What resources are available for me?

People with intellectual disabilities are currently eligible to be vaccinated in Philadelphia. If you’re wondering if a physical disability qualifies you for the vaccine, visit this section of our explainer or contact your doctor.

If you’re worried about getting to your appointment, you can take SEPTA’s Customized Community Transportation program. Totally free, CCT transports seniors and people with limited mobility. Call 48 hours in advance of your appointment, and you can schedule a ride by dialing 3-1-1 and selecting Option 5 between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Also, Philly’s first FEMA site at the Convention Center has a special CCT drop-off point at 100 N. 12th St. Pickup after getting the jab is at 1101 Arch St. The clinic is only giving out second doses right now — but will soon start giving out Johnson & Johnson doses.

Back to top ⤴️

I’m undocumented. Will I be able to get vaccinated?

Yes. According to the state and federal governments, undocumented Pennsylvanians are encouraged to get the vaccine. Accessing vaccine services, or any treatment related to COVID-19, won’t negatively affect a person’s green card or U.S. admission status.

There may be law enforcement present at the FEMA vaccination site in the Convention Center, but it’s not immigration. “DHS/ICE does not conduct immigration enforcement near healthcare facilities or vaccination sites,” said the FEMA regional director.

Back to top ⤴️

How will unhoused people get vaccinated?

People living in congregate settings, including homeless shelters, have technically been eligible to receive the vaccine since January, but the city battled issues with access and preparation. Since then, the city and various homeless service organizations continue to work on coordinating vaccines for the unhoused.

  • The Hub of Hope homeless services center in Suburban Station runs semi-weekly vaccination clinics.
  • The Health Department’s mobile vaccination team also provides vaccines for vulnerable populations, including those experiencing homlessness.
  • People can access Health Department mass vaccination clinic sites by filling out a form online or calling 311. The clinics require proof of residency, which can be a driver’s license, PHL City ID or piece of mail.
  • The Black Doctor’s COVID-19 Consortium is one of the few initiatives that operates walk-up clinics. The city said it’s educating unhoused people about the consortium’s work, too.

The Office of Homeless Services and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities has been coordinating outreach with homeless service programs and shelters for staff and residents.

OHS has also started a vaccine ambassadors program, where people who have experienced homelessness in the past are trained to go out and encourage participation among the population.

Back to top ⤴️

I’ve gotten my first dose. Now what?

Depends on which vaccine you received.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a one-time jab. Congrats, you’re done.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are administered 21 days apart. Moderna vaccines are administered 28 days apart. If you can’t make your second vaccine appointment, don’t worry. CDC guidance says folks can receive a second of either vaccine up to six weeks, or 42 days, after the first. You definitely should not receive a shot too early, though.

The people who gave you your first dose should schedule you for your second dose right then and there. They’ll give you a card that will list the date and time of the next appointment so you don’t forget.

Don’t lose that vaccination card — it could be important proof as society starts to reopen — but also don’t post a closeup on social media, because it reveals intimate details about you that could be used to hack your accounts.

Back to top ⤴️

How is the city tracking vaccinations?

All vaccine providers in Philadelphia are required to digitally transmit data to the city’s Immunization Information System, known as PhilaVax, on a regular basis. From there, health department epidemiologists sort through the data and post it online.

The city’s public-facing COVID vaccination dashboard tracks overall inoculations, and breaks out information into several demographic categories. You can see what percentage of various race and ethnic groups have gotten the shot — it’s much lower for the city’s Black and Latino populations — and track doses by age, gender, and city residents vs. outsiders.

To see trends on Philly dose distribution over time, and compare vaccination in the city with the surrounding counties and the state, check our regularly updated charts here.

Back to top ⤴️

Why is the city’s program separate from the rest of Pa.?

Philly is one of five U.S. cities getting vaccine directly from the federal government. The others are Houston, Chicago, New York, and San Antonio.

Philly’s immunization registry, PhilaVax, was implemented in 1994 as one of the first municipal registries in the U.S. Refined over three decades, it’s why Philadelphia was selected for the CDC’s pilot COVID vaccine planning program back in August, and is in charge of its own program.

Because of this relationship, the city gets shipments of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine directly. It then distributes doses to various partner organizations.

Back to top ⤴️

What is the city doing to spread the word about vaccination?

The goal of any vaccine program is to reach herd immunity, which health officials have said might happen when 70% to 80% of a community is immunized. So it’s important not just that you get vaccinated, but that all your neighbors do, too.

To spread the word about vaccination, and help convince people who might be hesitant to get the shot, the city health department is spending $1.5 million on its “Vax Up, Philly” marketing campaign.

Back to top ⤴️

How can I volunteer with the vaccine effort?

WHYY put together a detailed guide to helping others get vaccinated.

One way to get involved is through the Mayor’s Volunteer Corps portal. There are vaccine volunteer opportunities, and others, filtered by keyword and location. The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium is also sometimes looking for volunteers.

The Office of the Surgeon General runs something called the Medical Reserve Corps, whose local branch is managed by the Health Department. Volunteers get department training and are deployed during events and crises to support first responders. Anyone over 18 can sign up.

Back to top ⤴️

What vaccines are available, and are they safe?

There are three vaccines approved for distribution in the United States. They are the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Use of J&J vaccine was temporarily halted on April 13.

All three vaccines were 100% effective at preventing death in clinical trials. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were about 95% effective in preventing symptomatic sickness about a month post-vaccination, while the Johnson & Johnson jab was about 66% effective.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines dropped around the same time. Research from the Food and Drug Administration suggested early on that these vaccines were safe and effective. Now, several months post roll-out, those facts remain the same.

Pfizer and Moderna’s shots come with some uncomfy side effects for some patients, including chills, fever, headache, body aches and fatigue. Others hardly feel a thing.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was the last to hit the market. It uses DNA to help the body concoct a COVID-fighting recipe. Its side effects, most commonly fever and fatigue, have reportedly been milder than those that accompany the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Back to top ⤴️