Some Minnesotans are not interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
If more Minnesotans felt that way, it could have saved me a trip to Owatonna.
Fortunately, everybody else is very, very interested in the vaccine. So when the state opened eligibility to anyone old enough to drive, masses of Minnesotans logged onto vaccine appointment websites for the very first time, full of witless optimism.
"Let's check COVID-19 vaccine availability in your area," vaccinefinder.org greeted me last week, before flashing a bright red not-so-fast warning. "COVID-19 vaccination appointments are not available within 25 miles [of my address] for next 5 days."
I was fine waiting while health care workers and teachers and everyone older and sicker than me got a shot at the vaccine. It was not my turn. I have a job I can do from home and a dog who doesn't care if I ever put on pants again.
Then suddenly it was my turn and even though I did not need to get vaccinated this week, I wanted to get vaccinated this week.
So you sign up for vaccine availability notifications from the state, the county and every pharmacy chain and health system you can find. Tens of thousands of people joined the vaccine hunter groups on Facebook, where people who spent months searching for help for elderly parents and sick children patiently offered pointers and answered questions ("You can get vaccinated at Costco?")
More than a million and a half Minnesotans have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine which leaves millions more hitting refresh on six different pharmacy pages. Because getting an appointment is still a matter of good timing, good luck — or very good neighbors.
"I'm not a health care person, but I thought I could help," said Luke Hellier, a Lakeville City Council member who has spent weeks helping friends, neighbors and total strangers find vaccine.
The relief he felt when his parents were able to get vaccinated made him want to help others get their shot. Not everyone has the time or tech to spend hours trawling vaccine registration sites like Hellier does. He logs on, spreadsheet of names at the ready — parents of high school classmates who moved out of town, cancer patients trying to find time to get vaccinated between chemotherapy sessions, grandmas without cellphones.
"It's a mad dash when [appointments] open," he said. "It's like trying to find the best concert tickets on Ticketmaster. You're in there and you have to type superfast."
Thrifty White will hold your space while you type. Walmart and Hy-Vee don't.
"You have to fire through and know names and addresses and date of birth," Hellier said. "I'm toggling between my phone and iPad and laptop to make sure I have all the right information. Sometimes, [I'm] staying up past midnight because that's when Walmart opens up."
He has sent people as far as Bemidji in search of vaccine.
"People are totally desperate," said Hellier, who was finally able to use his skills to book appointments for himself and his wife this week. "I think it's just part of what people should be doing."
If you want to get back to life without masks, social distance and the gnawing fear of pandemic death, the easiest thing you can do is get vaccinated.
Even though getting vaccinated is still not the easiest thing to do.
Which is how I ended up driving across three counties for my vaccine appointment. A kind soul tweeted out news of a drive-through vaccination event at the Steele County Public Works headquarters. Down to Owatonna I drove, workshopping OW-atonna jokes the entire way.
Which I didn't need, because the Moderna shot was quick and painless. Prop one arm out the car window, get a shot, get a Band-Aid, punch that pandemic in the face.
The toughest part of the entire exercise was the zipper merge drivers had to do to exit the vaccine line. Turns out, Minnesotans are capable of zipper merging if their lives depend on it.
"Thank you for getting vaccinated," a volunteer said.
"Thank you for helping me get vaccinated," I yelled back, a little too loudly, but from the heart.
Half-vaxed and relaxed, I waited in my car for 15 minutes, admiring my new "I got my COVID-19 vaccine" button.
This isn't over. We still have to mask up and look out for each other.
But it felt like the beginning of the end. It felt like the start of something better.
If you're still on the prowl for vaccine, you can find some good search tips here.