The campaign to vaccinate the nation against COVID-19 has just begun, but it's not too soon to identify and replicate smart efforts enacted elsewhere.
One of those locations is Oklahoma. Its residents can go to the state health department website, fill out a short questionnaire and find out if they're among the high-risk population or front-line workers now eligible to get the vaccine.
If the answer is no, the online query is still helpful. Those who wish will be notified by e-mail when it's time to get the vaccine. Not everyone has e-mail or online access, so this isn't a perfect solution. Nevertheless, it still merits swift consideration in Minnesota and other states because of the peace of mind it offers — there's no need to worry about missing your eligibility window. Additional smart ideas are urgently needed as well to accelerate the disappointing pace of vaccination here and elsewhere.
Minnesota is currently in the middle of the pack when it comes to state-by-state per capita comparisons of COVID vaccination. It should be at the front.
Many of us remain confused about when and how to get a COVID vaccination for ourselves or loved ones. Clarity on this has been elusive since the vaccines first became available, and the problem has only deepened.
The first step of the initial tiered system devised by federal health officials was fairly straightforward — front-line health care workers and nursing home residents. But after that, the subsequent tiers and subgroups within them grew increasingly complex to navigate, especially for those without health expertise.
On Wednesday, the outgoing Trump administration unexpectedly tried to address this by expanding early vaccination guidelines — lowering the high-risk age threshold from 75 to 65, and including younger people with serious medical complications. The move, while it has advantages, crowds the front line with millions more people while vaccine supplies remain limited, a concern sounded by Minnesota health officials even as they recommended following the new broader guidelines on Thursday. More changes may come as President-elect Joe Biden's pandemic control team takes over.
"As vaccine eligibility expands in many parts of the country, confusion is going to shift from 'Am I eligible?' to 'I'm eligible, so why can't I find a place that actually has vaccines and appointments available?'" Larry Levitt, Kaiser Family Foundation's vice president for health policy, tweeted Jan. 12.
This week, the Minnesota Department of Health improved its online vaccine supply and administration "dashboard." The new information is appreciated, but it's missing a vital element: helping Minnesotans answer the question, "When can I get the vaccine?"
The Oklahoma online eligibility and vaccine notification system is one option. Or maybe a different approach could piggyback on the COVID Aware app that the state already has to determine exposure to the virus.
The new state data also doesn't help answer a critical question about the vaccine rollout: Are there administrative logjams where the shots are given?
Responsibility for putting needles into arms is fragmented mainly among hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and public health sites. Large pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens are under federal contract to vaccinate long-term care residents.
It's important to know if there are laggards among organizations giving the shots. Unfortunately, the state doesn't provide enough data to compare different Minnesota health care systems' performance, for example, in administering the shots. Publicizing poor performers by name could help cure this.
This is also a good time to call up retired medical providers around the state to help vaccinate at additional sites. The sooner Minnesotans are vaccinated, the sooner this pandemic ends. Help and hustle are vital.