At least 206,000 Minnesota seniors signed up for the state's COVID-19 vaccine lottery Tuesday, although it could take several weeks before most of them get shots.
There are only 8,000 doses set aside for those 65 and older this week at the state's nine community vaccination clinics.
On Monday, state officials announced a vaccine lottery after the online appointment system last week was quickly overwhelmed by those hoping to snag a slot.
As a result, more people were able to place their names in the hat, but now they will have to wait until they are randomly selected for an appointment, a process that begins Wednesday morning when those selected will receive texts, e-mails or phone calls.
State officials said that the new system experienced heavy traffic shortly after it opened at 5 a.m. Tuesday, but wait times improved throughout the day.
"There was certainly a high amount of traffic at 5 a.m.," said Tarek Tomes, commissioner of the state's technology agency. "We adjusted our approach this week to make sure that people weren't waiting long times to register."
Still, some people waited up to an hour to get in, while others were frustrated that they couldn't select a vaccination site or that the system indicated that they were ineligible based on their home address.
John Downing of Duluth said he waited an hour behind 13,000 other people in the queue shortly after the system opened, but once he got in he was met with confusion.
He was asked for his address, but the website rejected it.
"The first time it didn't recognize my address at all, but then it said I was on the waitlist," Downing said. Unsure if he was really registered, he tried again.
"I had so little faith that I would get through because of what happened last week," he said. His second attempt took about 20 minutes, but again he was put on the waitlist.
"I was only trying to be sure that I was in the lottery," Downing said.
Tomes said the state made adjustments early in the day to better handle the web traffic.
A state spokesman confirmed Tuesday that being wait-listed is the same as being registered. People who got error messages about addresses should revisit the site and try again as everyone 65 and over is eligible, Tomes said.
"It didn't take long at all," said Craig Vanderah of Prior Lake, who signed on at 4:55 a.m. before the new system launched five minutes later. "It told me right away that it would take 15 minutes."
Like others, Vanderah experienced problems last week. He was able to get himself on the waiting list but was unsuccessful getting the same thing for his wife.
"It just jammed up and nothing happened," he said. "We got nowhere with that last week."
Several reported that they were confused about where and when they will be assigned for the vaccine if they do get picked.
"I managed to get my 79-year-old husband registered this morning through the state but I have no idea what that means in terms of an actual, scheduled shot," said Mary Jane Miller of Chanhassen.
"I would also like to see a more transparent and more equitable plan than we currently have in Minnesota," she said. "Friends and family in Florida and Arizona report that they have already received the vaccine."
Those who don't get picked for this week's vaccination appointments will remain on the waiting list.
"We are not deleting the waiting list," Tomes said. "Once you are signed up for the waiting list you are always going to be eligible."
This week's website registration process was scheduled to close at 5 a.m. Wednesday.
A total of 284,441 Minnesotans have been vaccinated with at least the first of the two required doses as of Sunday. That includes nearly 75,000 over the age of 64 who've gotten a shot. Many of those have been long-term care residents.
The number of shots administered has gradually been inching up, with 105,072 first and second doses given last week.
Minnesota vaccinators have used 73% of the doses they've received within three days of arrival and 92% of doses within a week. The state has set goals that 90% of shots should be given within three days and all shots should be administered within a week.
Last week, the state's community vaccination sites gave out 13,400 doses, an amount that was split between seniors and educators and child-care workers.
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 for those in the metro area. Rural teachers will continue to receive shots reserved for them at seven of the state's vaccination sites.
Minnesota's weekly vaccine shipments from the federal government will be increasing, according to a statement issued by Gov. Tim Walz. This week the state is expecting about 70,000 doses, but that will increase by another 11,000 for the following three weeks.
Minnesota health officials announced Tuesday another eight deaths and 727 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The deaths were among those ages 60 to 84 in Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Lyon and Yellow Medicine counties. One of those who died was a long-term care resident.
A total of 10,929 test results were reported to state health officials Monday.
The number of people getting major medical care for COVID-19 complications continues to fall, with 496 patients hospitalized, including 100 in intensive care.
Most people who require medical attention are those with underlying health conditions, including heart, lung and kidney disease, that make them more susceptible to COVID-19 complications.
The majority of those who become infected with the coronavirus experience mild or no symptoms, although they might be able to infect others.
Since the pandemic began, 440,596 of those diagnosed with COVID-19 are considered to be no longer infectious.
Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192