At noon Tuesday, the second round of appointments opens up at Minnesota's nine new publicly run COVID vaccine pilot sites.
The tech-savvy already know the drill. Have the computer fired up and ready to land on the appointment web page as the clock strikes midday. The same come-out-of-the-gate-fast strategy holds for those aiming to secure a slot by phone (1-833-431-2053). Frustratingly, preparation also has to include this: girding for disappointment if these efforts don't secure an appointment.
The vaccine supply allocated by federal officials to Minnesota and other states wasn't close to meeting demand even before early eligibility was expanded earlier this month. That lowered the high-risk age from 75 to 65 and included younger people with some serious medical conditions. When so many are at the front of the line, there effectively is no front of the line.
One of the consequences: the frustration boiling over in Minnesota last Tuesday when demand for the first round of shots swamped the state health department's website and phone lines. The state's IT professionals and their vendors must not let it happen again even as the supply math continues to work against them.
With only 12,000 doses available weekly for the state's nine vaccine sites, demand will far outstrip availability again. Those online and on the phone shouldn't wait for hours only to be left in limbo. Even if the answer is disappointing, a clear, prompt response is vital. Perspective is also in order for those who fail to get an appointment. A message that cannot be emphasized enough: the nine vaccine sites are not the only way to get the vaccine in Minnesota. A federal partnership involving large chain pharmacies is charged with vaccinating residents of nursing homes and assisted-living centers. There's a dedicated supply for that effort, and the partnership is working its way through state facilities. If your elderly loved one is in long-term care, check with administrators first for a status update.
Health care providers also play a critical role in vaccinating Minnesotans. Although they're also struggling with limited supply, providers such as HealthPartners and M Health Fairview plan to notify eligible patients as shots become available. A recommendation for health care providers: clearer communication about this notification plan — whether online, via e-mail or individual letters — would help allay fears about being overlooked.
As federal and state vaccine plans gel, there is a group that merits special concern: elderly who live on their own, not in long-term care centers.
One concern is that they don't appear to have access to the chain pharmacies' long-term-care efforts. They may also face delays getting the shots because of the newly expanded group of people now competing for the shot.
This week, Carl Hobert, director of the Boston University Global Literacy Institute, called an editorial writer with that exact complaint. His parents, ages 85 and 92, still live on their own in St. Paul. He said they haven't yet been able to get vaccinated. "The deck is stacked against the elderly, especially those who are living independently," Hobert said. He is contacting Minnesotan's congressional and legislative leaders for help.
Solutions are critical. The elderly are at highest risk of dying from COVID. The answers aren't easy, but that's no excuse. Let's figure this out.