3 things to know if you’re newly eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Minnesota

Published 9:04 am Tuesday, March 30, 2021

In a major milestone for the state’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy, all Minnesotans 16 and older are now officially eligible to be vaccinated — regardless of age, location, occupation, health conditions or living situation.

But state health officials are cautioning that the expansion won’t mean that vaccine doses will be immediately available to everyone who’s eligible.

As of Friday, 1.6 million Minnesotans — more than a third of the state’s 16-and-older, now-eligible population — had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. And this week, the state is expected to cross the 1 million mark of people who have gotten their full series of the vaccine — two doses of the shot made by Moderna or Pfizer, or one dose of the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

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The process of actually securing a vaccine appointment can be confusing — and state health leaders say that there’s sure to be far more demand this week than available shots. Here are three things you need to know, if you’re newly on the hunt for a vaccine.

1) There are many avenues that lead to an appointment.

State health leaders have been urging Minnesotans to sign up for alerts through the state’s Vaccine Connector tool, an online and over-the-phone system that’s being used to alert people to available appointments at community clinics nearby.

But health leaders are urging people to not stop there — and to not wait until they’re contacted to seek out the vaccine. They say people should take an opportunity to be vaccinated if it arises — whether through a clinic or call from their doctor.

There are many, many avenues in Minnesota for getting an appointment — through nonprofits, pharmacy chains, tribal health departments, Veterans Affairs clinics and more.

2) Some providers will continue to prioritize certain groups.

The providers administering the vaccine — from large health care systems to doctors’ offices to local pharmacies, public and tribal health departments and beyond — have differing priorities for who they’re trying to reach.

Health care providers, for instance, might continue to prioritize vaccinating older patients or those with specific health conditions, over younger, healthier patients.

And many local public health departments and hospital systems say they’re planning to continue hosting vaccination clinics and other efforts that focus on getting vaccine to people who might otherwise have trouble accessing it.

3) More doses are on the way.

This week, the state Health Department is expecting to receive more than 300,000 doses of the available COVID-19 vaccines: 182,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine; 107,600 of the Moderna vaccine; and 31,800 of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

That’s an increase over previous weeks, and the supply is expected to continue to grow. By the second week of April, the state is planning to receive more than 500,000 doses of the vaccines.

But even as the supply ramps up, state health leaders have said they expect demand to far outpace it, for weeks to come.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations require two doses within three to four weeks of each other. The doses are scheduled 21 days apart for the Pfizer vaccine , and 28 days apart for the Moderna vaccine. You must get both of your doses from the same maker. Public health officials are considering strategies to make sure people who get their first shot come back for their second on time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people get their second dose as close to the prescribed timeline as possible, though they recently updated their guidance to allow up to six weeks between vaccines, but only if it’s not possible to follow the recommended interval.

The vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson requires one dose.

Health officials estimate that it could take up to a few weeks after vaccination to build immunity.

Bonus: A few more things to know

As you hunt for a vaccine for yourself or your loved ones, here are a few more things to keep in mind:

Teens can only get the Pfizer vaccine. So far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The vaccine is free. The federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine as part of its national response to the coronavirus; it’s buying the vaccine from the manufacturers and distributing it to the states. If you are asked for your bank account, credit card or Social Security number — or payment of any kind — it is a scam. But keep in mind that you may be asked for your insurance information when you arrive for your appointment.

Citizenship is not required. You’ll need to have an address in Minnesota to preregister for a vaccine through the state’s system. But you do not need to be a U.S. citizen. And while some providers might ask for some form of identification or proof of eligibility when you arrive to be vaccinated, the state Health Department says it has asked providers “to avoid making documentation a barrier to vaccination.”

You can’t pay to be on a priority list — and you can’t order a vaccine dose online. If you are told you can pay to get on a list to receive a vaccine, that’s a scam. While some health care systems are curating lists of people interested in getting the vaccine, getting onto a list comes at no cost. If you are told that someone can ship you the vaccine, that is also a scam. Vaccines will only be administered by medical professionals.

Experts recommend continuing to take precautions after vaccination. For a handful of reasons, masks and social distancing will still be recommended for some time after people are fully vaccinated, particularly as cases of the COVID-19 variants continue to grow.

In early March, the CDC released recommendations saying that people who have been fully vaccinated — those who received their final vaccine dose at least two weeks earlier — can gather indoors, without masks, with other vaccinated people.

According to The Associated Press, “The recommendations also say that vaccinated people can come together in the same way — in a single household — with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.”

But the CDC also recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks, avoid large gatherings and continue to social distance when in public — and adds that they should get tested for COVID-19 if they develop any symptoms related to the disease.