Minnesota launched a COVID-19 vaccine pilot program Jan. 21, offering a limited number of Pfizer vaccine doses for education workers, child care workers and adults age 65 and older at nine pilot sites, including one in Brooklyn Center.

An influx of web traffic crashed the appointment website Jan. 19 as thousands of Minnesotans attempted to register for the vaccine. Registration slots and waitlists filled quickly before being closed, set to re-open the following week.

In Brooklyn Center, vaccine distribution began at noon, Jan. 21, at Earle Brown Center.

“The experience is pretty straightforward,” said Eddie Haubrich, incident commander with the Department of Public Safety’s State Emergency Operations Center. “Only participants who have appointments are allowed to come. We have signs, we also have greeters that will be helping us in our parking lot asking participants if they have an appointment. They will be temperature checked at the front door and will be socially distanced and lined up inside.”

Nursing staff prepped eight vaccination stations with supplies, Clorox disinfectant wipes and laptops for accessing required documentation prior to patients arriving.

Nurses “will be drawing up each dose as the person sits down and they review the questions. They determine it’s safe to vaccinate,” said Abhi Andley, owner of Homeland Health Specialists, a medical company working with the state on the pilot program. “They’ll wipe the person’s arm with an alcohol wipe, and then they will proceed to vaccinate. Once the person has been vaccinated, they’ll sit in the waiting area ... and they’ll be waiting there for 15 minutes to monitor if there are any adverse effects.”

“We are building for the future and doing what we can to get more shots to Minnesotans right now,” said Gov. Tim Walz. “By beginning to serve those age 65 and older, educators and child care workers, we are immunizing for impact. It’s a step in the right direction on this long road to recovery. The federal government has been giving mixed messages on vaccine availability and guidance, and we need them to step up and get more vaccine to the state. When they do, we will be ready. The end of this pandemic is closer today than it was yesterday.”

Vaccination appointments can be made online at tinyurl.com/yyb7ovsu, or by phone at 612-426-7230 or 833-431-2053. Educators and child care workers must schedule online.

If no appointments are available, a waitlist will be available for each pilot site. The waitlist will be cleared every Tuesday at noon, so anyone placed on a waitlist who does not get a call to make an appointment will need to sign up for the waitlist again the following week.

The Brooklyn Center site was set up to distribute 2,400 vaccinations over a three-day period. Vaccines were distributed from noon to 8 p.m. Jan. 21 and 22, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 23. The site is set up to provide approximately 10-12 vaccinations per hour, per nurse.

“Because this is a pilot program, we’re trying to learn what are the exact best practices that work at this scale,” Andley said. “Working with the state, we have been vaccinating people in the community for a while – since December when the vaccines were first available. But we’re really working with the state to try to figure out how we can expand this dramatically at scale. Everybody knows that we need to get more vaccines in arms and this is a way for us to learn.”

Other pilot distribution sites are located in Anoka, Fergus Falls, Marshall, Mountain Iron, North Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud and Thief River Falls.

The program expands on the types of populations prioritized to receive the vaccine. Healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff can still receive the vaccine through their workplace, care facility or local public health provider.

“These new state sites will immediately provide more vaccines to some Minnesotans who are eligible for their shot,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “More importantly, this pilot program will help Minnesota continue to build up a broad and multi-channel vaccine distribution system with our local public health, healthcare, and pharmacy partners for vaccine access once the federal government begins shipping a higher volume of doses.”

Before President Joe Biden took office this month, Walz, along with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, sent a letter to former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar expressing frustration with the distribution of the vaccine.

“It has become abundantly clear that not only has the Trump administration botched the rollout of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, but also that the American people have been misled about these delays ,” the governors said.

“Pfizer just announced that as of yesterday, they have millions of doses of the vaccine on hand and are waiting on addresses from the Trump administration so they can deliver the vaccine to states. If you are unable or unwilling to give us that supply, we urge you to grant permission for us to directly purchase vaccines so we may distribute them to the people of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota as quickly as possible. Without additional supply or authorization to purchase directly, our states may be forced to cancel plans for public vaccination clinics in the coming weeks, which are expected to vaccinate tens of thousands.”

For more vaccine information, visit tinyurl.com/yyb7ovsu.

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