As a 69-year-old who has had a heart transplant and kidney cancer, Carrie Lampert figured it wouldn't take long to line up a COVID-19 vaccination.
Instead, she waited for weeks as she bird-dogged e-mails and state, pharmacy and health care websites in hopes of scoring an appointment for a shot. "It's really been a full-time job," Lampert said of her daily searches navigating the websites. "The rules constantly change."
Late last week, Lampert finally got lucky, securing an appointment for vaccine Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. But for thousands of seniors across the state, many with serious health issues, the confusing and often intimidating search and scramble to line up vaccine continues, triggering great angst and much frustration.
Despite Gov. Tim Walz's announcement this week that 70% of Minnesota seniors will be vaccinated by the end of March, many seniors feel overwhelmed and remain perplexed by the state's system for selecting who gets a shot, and when.
While Lampert, of Cambridge, Minn., has made her appointment, her 70-year-old husband, John, who has severe heart failure, is waiting still.
"It just makes no sense," Carrie Lampert said. "I know of or have heard of many folks, including my niece, who have gotten the shot and are not health workers or front-line folks. I live a block from Allina in Cambridge, can't get it there. I see doctors at Wyoming Fairview, can't get it there. Cub, Walgreens and Walmart in Cambridge are not giving it yet."
Mike Prouty, 68, of Shoreview, shares in the frustration.
He was one of the many eager seniors who helped crash the state's vaccine sign-up when it was offered weeks ago.
He made 117 calls before finally getting through to register himself and his wife. A Twin Cities friend snagged an appointment in Thief River Falls.
Then, the state changed the registration system, offering shots at a handful of large vaccination sites around Minnesota. Last week, it switched things up again by encouraging seniors to sign up for the newly launched COVID-19 Vaccine Connector.
All the while, Prouty and other seniors played pharmacy roulette, rising before dawn to see if Walgreens or Thrifty White or CVS had received an allotment and were offering shots. Prouty's wife, 68 and healthy, was vaccinated weeks ago.
"Everyone says 'be patient,' " said Prouty, a retired administrator with the U.S. Forest Service who underwent hip replacement surgery a few weeks ago. "I decided I can't get all jacked up on this because it's affecting my health."
To alleviate the stress, Prouty decided to step back by "reading books, taking the dogs for walks."
Not long after, he scored an appointment through the state for a shot in Red Lake Falls, more than 275 miles away. As he prepared to hit the road for a four-hour drive, Prouty then learned that North Memorial Health Clinic in Brooklyn Park had an opening for him.
That was unexpected. Prouty said he'd never checked with them. But as it turned out, he was in their database after being treated following a car accident a few years ago. He gets his first shot Sunday.
"When I bothered to calm down, it just happened," he said.
Ann Bussey, 72, is a retired health care administrator from the Hibbing area. Although she and her husband recently received the vaccine, she's unsure about what criteria were used.
Now, Bussey is trying to piece together a network of seniors in Hibbing to share vaccine information using her area YMCA. It's not easy. Of the 1,400 members over 65, just 45% have an e-mail attached to their name. Of the 400 e-mails she sends every day, maybe 30% are read.
Bussey said she understands why it's so challenging to devise a system to efficiently notify and schedule vaccines for Minnesota's estimated 920,000 people ages 65 to 100.
"There is no network to reach them," she said.
She hopes state officials make a better effort to connect with seniors — and develop a clear process for when they can expect to get vaccinated.
"Ideally, it would be optimal for those with serious health conditions to be prioritized first," said Bussey, who had to drive 100 miles to Duluth in 36-below cold to get her shot.
After weeks of frustration, Margaret Motzko of St. Paul learned just Wednesday that she and her husband are scheduled to be vaccinated. Their shots are scheduled for Tuesday at Woodwinds in Woodbury. The 79-year-old with chronic lung disease said she's been stuck in her North End neighborhood home for months, too afraid to leave for fear of the virus. She said she's eager to get out in public again. Her husband has been more fortunate.
"He just got back from ice fishing at Lake of the Woods," she said. "He never left the fish house."
Their daughter-in-law, Denise Motzko, said the couple for weeks monitored the vaccine locator and Mychart through M Health Fairview, without luck.
"They can't get any answers, can't talk to a doctor," she said the day before they secured appointments. "They are very frustrated because they know other people who are getting it and they can't figure it out."
Betty Conley of St. Paul said for many, it comes down to luck.
A resident of the Como Park neighborhood, Conley found an open slot at a community clinic on the city's West Side after weeks of chasing every possible lead, clicking on links that didn't lead anywhere and calling places that someone said had the vaccine, only to find out it was gone.
"I'm happy to have a sore arm," she said this week after chancing upon a neighborhood clinic mentioned in the Star Tribune that still had a few shots left.
The clinic made its vaccine available to anybody in the community older than 64. Conley, a former programmer and analyst for the state Department of Education, is 72.
"They said they still had some if I could get here in time," Conley said. "I said I could be there in a half-hour."
Her second shot is scheduled for next month.
While relieved, Conley said she hopes the state comes up with a process that not only delivers a vaccine to the seniors who need it but provides a clear schedule and expectations. As it stands now, she said, it's pitting groups of Minnesotans against each other in the race to get a shot.
"The way it is now, there is such a feeling of vulnerability," she said. "After years working in IT, I'm a person who tries to make sense of things. Seniors are at such a high risk. I don't think they should have put vulnerable people in the situation of having to go after this."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428