More than a million Minnesotans were added to the queue last week when Gov. Tim Walz announced expanded eligibility for coronavirus vaccines, reigniting the mad scramble that ensued in February when people aged 65 and older were deemed eligible.
Like concert tickets for the hottest show, landing an appointment was nearly impossible for many as open slots were snapped up in a matter of seconds.
Fortunately, we have seen many improvements since that first rollout when the state’s signup lottery system crashed and plans were made then changed almost daily on how to vaccinate Minnesota’s seniors, teachers and child care workers. People had no idea if they were signed up or not, making for a crisis of confusion. We’ve never been here before but Minnesotans expected more in this difficult situation. Transparency and communication are essential in times like these. With 10 months to plan the rollout, it should not have been this difficult.
More recently, however, Minnesotans can take pride in turning around our vaccine rollout. We are now among the top states in the nation when it comes to vaccine distribution and actual delivery into arms.
Still, navigating the system to secure an appointment can be complicated and openings are still hard to locate — especially in the metro.
Many have found success securing a shot in rural Minnesota, where pharmacies provide vaccinations as part of federal allocations. While logging hundreds of miles on a sunny spring day to visit a pharmacy in rural Minnesota isn’t a hardship for some, it is an impossibility for others. That privilege and ability should not dictate who gets vaccinated. People without transportation, access or wherewithal to navigate the online systems or the inability to take part of a day off work to drive across Minnesota for an appointment are left to wait, scramble and search for an opportunity.
Desperate for protection from the virus and the desire to move on with their lives, Minnesotans have become very resourceful. A “Vaccine Hunters” group on Facebook showcases the best of our state’s caring ethos, with people sharing alerts of new appointment availability or connecting to help sign up those who are struggling to understand the process.
This approach relies on the kindness of others and a great deal of vigilance. From middle of the night alarms to changing your cell phone’s time zones to access online appointments when they go live, there are no hoops Minnesotans aren’t willing to jump through to get that precious shot in the arm from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.
In February, Minnesota launched its Vaccine Connector, where you can enter your personal information and sign up for notifications to help you find out when and where you can receive the vaccine.
But nearly every option requires access to technology as well as some online savvy, which means there are vulnerable Minnesotans falling through the cracks. Those who are homebound, struggle with mobility or the English language might not be able to navigate this complex system.
Reaching them needs to be a top priority of the state. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, more options are being explored, including mobile vaccine clinics and home health visits.
At a rate of more than 40,000 new doses a day, Minnesota is making real progress in vaccinating our population. Eligibility groups continue to open up and the Minnesota Department of Health has remained confident it will be able to offer a shot to everyone who wants one by the end of April. Opportunities from pop-up vaccine sites to the addition of more pharmacy locations continue to increase.
We are in a race against rapidly spreading variants and recently loosened restrictions that will allow a lot more people to gather.
People have big plans, like hugging their grandchild or reuniting with aging parents. Businesses are anxious to drop restrictions that have dragged on for more than a year. Baseball season, graduations, summer concerts and the State Fair are on the horizon.
In the meantime, we must continue to be patient and do the work. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Help connect a neighbor struggling to find an appointment. Wear your mask and social distance until everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.
We are in the home stretch, folks. Something resembling normalcy is in sight and within our collective reach. — An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. Reactions are welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.