FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Finding COVID vaccines is still a challenge in the Central Valley, but it's starting to get easier, and people are coming up with strategies.
"I did have to do some hunting and waiting," said Joe Perez of Fresno. "You know, the earlier you come, the better, I think."
His was one of the cars lined up at Central East High School Monday morning, filled with people excited to get their second dose of the COVID vaccine - getting them within days of maximum protection.
"Well, now I can go out in the world a little bit more," Perez said. "I'm a teacher, so I'll be able to go out and work with students, and of course, with my family. I won't have to worry about people getting sick at home."
United Health Centers planned to vaccinate about 500 people Monday, using doses they get from Fresno County, which also provides vaccines for big vaccination centers at Sierra Pacific Orthopedics and the county's site at the Fresno Fairgrounds.
RELATED: Central California COVID-19 vaccines: How to make an appointment, latest information by county
Most of that supply had not yet reached people older than 65 but younger than 75, until recently.
"I was watching Channel 30 and it was 5 o'clock in the morning," said Marcia Lowry of Fresno.
She was one of the first patients to sign up for COVID vaccines from a CVS Pharmacy and she also scheduled one for her husband after weeks of looking.
"I couldn't find an appointment because they were doing the over 75, so when this opened up, I told him I feel like I hit the jackpot," Lowry said.
CVS and Rite Aid have both started scheduling vaccinations in the Central Valley on Friday, expanding the vaccine supply and making them easier to access.
RELATED: CVS, Rite Aid start administering COVID-19 vaccines. Where to get one in Central CA
"I was constantly on the Internet, you know," said Kelly Bray of Fresno, describing his struggle to find a vaccine appointment. "I'd wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning, and when I heard about CVS getting ready to do it, I was checking it every day."
"Why do you want to get it so much?" an Action News reporter asked him.
"Well, I don't want to die," he said.
Pharmacies get their doses directly from the federal government without going through the county, and state data show their contributions already boosting the vaccination rate.
The allocation directly to Fresno County for last week was 19,000 doses. State data show more than 37,500 doses administered over the last seven days.
The direct-to-county allocation for this week was down by 1,000 doses, but a full week of pharmacy vaccinations could more than make up the difference.
When they're available, you can find Rite Aid appointments here and CVS appointments here.
Supply up, COVID vaccine access easier in Central Valley
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