Minnesota is switching to a random lottery this week to schedule senior citizens for limited COVID-19 vaccinations — giving them a 24-hour sign-up window rather than a madcap free-for-all.
Gov. Tim Walz on Monday announced that people 65 and older will have a full day, starting at 5 a.m. Tuesday, to preregister for vaccinations and to pick one of nine sites. Those randomly selected will be notified Wednesday of their appointments later this week.
The governor on Monday also challenged providers to administer 90% of first vaccine doses within three days of receiving them, and all of those doses within a week, rather than assigning them to appointments days later in a way that has hurt Minnesota in national comparisons for efficiency.
Providers who can't keep pace might receive smaller shipments in subsequent weeks.
"These actions won't make more vaccine appear out of thin air," Walz said, "but we're going to get what we do have to Minnesotans as quickly as possible."
Minnesota on Monday ranked 42nd in the per capita rate of people who have received first doses of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but 12th in the rate of people who have completed the series.
The state reported on Monday that 4.8% of Minnesota's population has at least received a first dose. As of Jan. 22, 266,985 people had received first doses, and 67,436 had also received second doses.
Minnesota has prioritized its limited initial supply of federally controlled COVID-19 vaccine for 500,000 health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Progress in vaccinating this group resulted in the state diverting some supplies for people 65 and older, who have suffered 94% of Minnesota's 6,098 COVID-19 deaths, and for teachers as they return to more in-person classes.
The state on Monday reported three COVID-19 deaths of people between the ages of 60 and 84 in Ramsey, Sherburne and Wilkins counties. The state also reported 794 newly diagnosed infections with the coronavirus that causes the disease — raising the state's case count to 455,783.
This week's vaccine lottery for senior citizens replaces the first-come, first-served approach last Tuesday that crashed a state registration website and left many Minnesotans confused and staring at their computers for hours.
It also eliminates the dilemma for seniors when the closest appointments for scarce vaccine are hours away.
Christine Viken drove from Lake City to Fridley to stay with relatives Thursday, then her sister drove her another 290 miles to Thief River Falls on Friday for the only appointment that was available.
"It's a long lonely stretch when you get off the freeway," said Viken, who is old enough to receive vaccine but declined to say her age. "Still, it's a very good feeling and I know a lot of people envy me the opportunity. They would have switched places if they could."
Marsh Walzer, 66, drove from Plymouth to Marshall on Friday night and stayed at a hotel to avoid driving through snow for his Saturday shot. Some lifelong health concerns put him at elevated risk of severe COVID-19.
"Just beat the snowstorm back," he said. "To me, it was worth it. I've got three grandkids. They live in town. I want to see them more than just the dropping by and waving ... and I just don't want to get COVID obviously."
The nine sites last week administered 13,369 first doses of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines — split between senior citizens who signed up online and educators whose school districts or child-care facilities were assigned limited appointment slots. While about 12,000 doses were earmarked for these sites last week, providers extracted extra doses from the vials.
Minnesota has been promised 871,650 doses of federally controlled COVID-19 vaccine so far, and has immediate access to 529,375 doses. The supply includes second doses.
The state allocated 15,000 doses for the mass vaccination of educators this week — with the location being moved to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Teachers vaccinated last week will go back to their original sites for second doses.) Seniors will have access to 8,000 doses this week at the nine community sites — though the Andover site is being relocated to Blaine.
Seniors can call 833-431-2053 to register. People placed on a waitlist last week are automatically rolled into this week's lottery.
Some health care providers such as HealthPartners started providing limited vaccinations for people 75 and older as well when they had open appointments that weren't filled by health care workers. The Bloomington-based health system e-mailed invitations at random to some patients while others discovered the opportunity by logging on to their online health portals.
Sharing of an e-mail meant only for health care workers resulted in some ineligible people signing up for vaccine appointments. The sign-up link in that e-mail has been deactivated and anyone who used it will need to present employer identification when they show up for vaccination, HealthPartners said in a statement.
Urgency to expand vaccine access in Minnesota comes amid declines in the latest pandemic wave. The positivity rate of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has fallen to 5.1%, indicating less viral transmission across the state.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744