Oaklandside reporter Azucena Rasilla’s grandmother, Lupe, waiting at a local Walgreens pharmacy to receive her COVID-19 booster before the holidays. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

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In mid-September when the FDA announced the approval of vaccine boosters for certain groups, my family was thrilled. Our 91-year-old grandmother would be eligible to receive a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, making winter gatherings much safer. 

My hope was that taking her to get a booster would be less hectic than when I drove her to a Stanford clinic in Emeryville in January for her first shots when the vaccine rollout was still confusing to navigate. 

where to get a booster in oakland

City of Oakland Covid Community Clinic

What: first-time COVID-19 vaccines, boosters, and testing (not for children between 5-11 years old)

Where: 250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza (next to City Hall)

When: 7 days a week

Hours: 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. until the end of the year. No appointment is needed.

For homebound individuals

Call 510-208-4829 or register online. 

Click here to find other Alameda County community vaccination clinics.

My grandma gets her care at Eastmont Wellness Center, part of Alameda Health System, a network of hospitals and clinics that include Highland and others. Unfortunately, when I took her there in October for her quarterly doctor’s appointment and flu shot, they did not have any Pfizer vaccines available. I was told to schedule an appointment or drop by Highland for her to get the booster. 

Alameda Health System patients can receive their initial or booster shots at any of the hospitals or clinics in the network. Although I tried several times to get through on the phone to schedule an appointment, I was unsuccessful. 

Rather than driving to Highland, unsure if a drop-in visit would be successful, I decided to schedule an appointment for her at the local CVS pharmacy on Redwood Road. At the time, appointments were easy to schedule. I managed to snag an appointment for early November. But two days before the appointment, I received a text message from CVS alerting me that they had canceled the appointment and I needed to re-schedule. Unfortunately, the link in the text message took me to a web page to start the process all over again rather than simply reschedule. 

Frustrated, I decided to look at other options for her. Grandma is in a wheelchair, and her health is fragile. I didn’t want to have her roam around at a drop-in clinic where there could be a long wait or not enough boosters to go around.

I decided to try Walgreens, another pharmacy nearby where grandma lives. Luckily, I was able to snag an appointment. For those who are computer savvy, scheduling an appointment online is a breeze. 

Both Walgreens and CVS require patients looking to get the COVID-19 vaccine to fill out the Vaccine Administration Record (VAR)—Informed Consent for Vaccination. I printed the form and filled it out to take with us on the day of the appointment.

We drove to Walgreens, walked up to the counter at the pharmacy, and a pharmacist confirmed her appointment and verified her identity with an ID, vaccination card, and medical information. We waited no more than 20 minutes until she was called and taken to a private room where her information was verified once more, and she received the shot. After receiving the shot, she wasn’t asked to stay behind the required 15 minutes to monitor for any possible immediate side effects. 

Back at home, our family kept an eye on her throughout the rest of the day for any potential side effects. When she received the first shot in January, she (like many of us) complained of a sore arm for a few days. With the booster, her arm was sore for a day but she had no other symptoms. 

Getting my booster shots was also tricky, but the city’s vaccine site was a good option

City of Oakland Covid Community Clinic at Frank H. Ogawa next to City Hall is open seven days a week through the end of the year. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

In mid-November, the California Department of Public Health advised all Californians who had gotten their second COVID-19 vaccine dose more than six before to consider getting a booster, regardless of the CDC’s eligibility guidelines. 

Encouraged by the news that I would be eligible, I decided to schedule my booster. Like grandma, I wanted to make sure that my whole family got the booster for us to celebrate the holidays with other vaccinated family members safely. 

My healthcare provider, Kaiser, didn’t have any appointments available for November, but I was able to snag a flu shot at a walk-up site through Kaiser with no problem.

Last week, I stopped by the city of Oakland COVID community clinic at 250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza (next to City Hall), which opened on Oct. 15 and will remain in operation through the end of the year. The clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (the last sign-in for the vaccine is at 4:45 p.m.), and no appointment is needed. The clinic offers first-time vaccinations, boosters, and testing. Unfortunately, vaccinations for children are not available at this site yet. 

When I dropped in, the clinic was short-staffed, and although there weren’t many people receiving the shot, the wait between patients was close to an hour. 

According to Oakland’s Communications Director Karen Boyd, “periodically, the clinic experiences staffing shortages, and the fluctuating demand can present occasional challenges.” Others have reported much shorter wait times at the city’s pop-up clinic and an overall good experience.

I did manage to get my shot. Unlike grandma, I felt some side effects. With my first shot, I only had a sore arm for a few days. With the second shot, I had no side effects. With the booster, my arm has been sore for about a week, and the area where I received the shot has some redness and swelling. I also experienced fatigue and headaches. 

Despite the discomfort, my family did what we felt was right to keep grandma safe and enjoy the holidays together once more. 

If you’re looking to get a booster shot or your first dose of the vaccine, you should know that while the county’s mass vaccine sites closed in May, the Alameda County Public Health Department offers a calendar with ongoing updated information about where to find a vaccination clinic nearby.  Vaccinations for children aged 5-11 and boosters are not currently available at Alameda County-supported vaccination clinics. The county is also providing support for those who are homebound to register for an in-home vaccination. Call 510-208-4829 or register online.

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.