Carol Robertson attributes 105 years of life to clean living (minus decades of smoking), regular exercise and medical advances over the last century — including the COVID-19 vaccine that she received on Thursday.

The St. Paul centenarian said she was relieved when her relatives found an appointment for her to receive her first dose at an East Metro HealthPartners clinic.

"I'm 105 and three quarters," she said. "At my age, you start counting the days."

Robertson was born just before the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, but doesn't remember it. The polio epidemic in the 1950s was another matter. Fears of her son suffering that disease gripped her.

"We didn't have a vaccine for it, you know," she said, "and it was a dreadful disease. It killed a lot of people and crippled a lot of children."

COVID-19 has been particularly harsh on senior citizens, and its risk escalates with age.

The death rate of known COVID-19 cases in Minnesota is .4% among people in their 50s, but the risk escalates from there and reaches 26% among people in their 90s. Among the 318 Minnesotans 100 and older who have suffered confirmed cases of COVID-19, exactly 100 have died. That's a fatality rate of 31%.

The most recent U.S. Census estimate in 2010 listed roughly 1,200 people in Minnesota who were 100 years or older.

Robertson worked in family planning and volunteered — taking care of children with emotional disorders, teaching English as a second language and helping out at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. She will go back for her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine in three weeks. She lives independently in her 41st-floor apartment in St. Paul, watching a wide expanse of life.

"I can see about three-quarters of the city downtown," she said, "and so there's always activity."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744