For the past three days, from morning to late night, Nancy Herington logged into website after website hoping to register her 61-year-old mother for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, only to discover that all the slots had been filled.
"You wouldn't think you'd be competing with an entire state. But you are," she said Friday. "You start to get vaccine envy."
That envy, and the scramble to set up coveted vaccination appointments, only intensified Friday hours after Gov. Tim Walz announced that Minnesota was expanding eligibility guidelines by making vaccines available to all Minnesotans 16 and older starting Tuesday.
With that, another 900,000 people were added to the pool of state residents vying to secure a shot of virus protection, ratcheting up the competition between people who have the time and tech savvy to hunt for appointments and those who don't.
Rebecca Shamblin acknowledged that the system works best for those who have the time and ability to monitor their computers and drive as far as needed to get a shot.
Last month, she headed to North Dakota with her parents to get their first shots. But when the appointment for her second shot closer to her Plymouth home was canceled Thursday, she had to spend several hours on the computer searching for the required follow-up.
Shamblin, who has had several heart surgeries, learned of a link to a Hennepin County site through the Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters Facebook page.
"I know how to play the game. But it shouldn't be a game," she said after securing an April 5 appointment. "I would not have known anything about [securing a new appointment] if not for that Facebook group."
Maura Caldwell and two nurse friends started the Facebook group Feb. 1 as a way to help connect people throughout Minnesota with available vaccine sites. It now has nearly 43,000 members. That's because, she said, it's become a place where people offer to help their neighbors. Many have volunteered to register complete strangers for vaccine appointments. Others have even stepped up to drive them to appointments, sometimes hundreds of miles away.
"As much as those [Hunger Games] analogies ring true and people are competing, one of the beautiful things about this group is people working to help each other," she said.
Bridgit Melnick of Richfield said she has booked 80 appointments in the past 10 days for people who were struggling to make sense of it all. On leave from her job because of COVID, "I have the time to do all the monotonous switching between websites, entering different ZIP codes, refreshing screens, click, and on and on and on. lol," she said in an e-mail. "While it is a challenge, I'm pretty handy on the computer and find my way around. Almost every appointment I've scheduled was within 20 minutes of their home and found within a day, with most being only a couple of hours. So, it can be done!"
Bill Sundt of Farmington said in an e-mail that he came to the page after being frustrated by the lack of information elsewhere. He was steered to CVS.com and got his first vaccine dose Friday.
"It's just frustrating that if you wait for help, you'll be sitting and waiting for a long time," he said. "There have been plenty of people on Facebook that should have been vaccinated months ago, and have not because they don't know what the heck to do. Sadly you can tell they are getting desperate."
Herington, of Minnetonka, said she also found the group helpful and supportive. Within hours of posting her frustrations, she made appointments for her mother and herself in Dakota County. They'll be getting shots Thursday at a junior high school in Burnsville.
"I was just overwhelmed with the amount of help in just a short period of time from my request," she said.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428