Everything you need to know about getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Minnesota

People sit in chairs in a large room.
People wait for 15 minutes under observation after getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in St. Paul at the end of January.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: March 4, 3:40 p.m. | Posted: Jan. 19, 12:45 p.m.

As Minnesota’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, the state has added new tools to help eligible Minnesotans find vaccines. 

The latest expansions to the plan include an online vaccination finder, expanded vaccine availability and the ability for eligible Minnesotans to get their shots at clinics, community vaccination sites and hospitals around Minnesota.

On Feb. 18, the state rolled out the Vaccine Connector, another tool to help eligible Minnesotans find shots. It’s designed to alert people to vaccine opportunities in their area, provide resources and let people not currently eligible for a vaccine know when their turn arrives.

A bar graph.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

In the meantime, the state has continued to follow its rollout plan laid out in December, in which members of specific priority groups — primarily health care workers and long-term care residents — are receiving their shots of the two-dose vaccine first.

The state has also released a potential timeline for getting other priority groups vaccinated.

A line chart.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

While more options are available for finding a vaccine, the state is warning that the number of doses available will continue to be very limited. Here’s what you need to know.

Who's now eligible to get their vaccines?

While Minnesota continues to work through its highest-priority groups — like front-line health care workers; those directly caring for, and exposed to, COVID-19 patients; residents of long-term care facilities; and long-term care workers — the state has also expanded the pool of people who are eligible to be vaccinated. In this new group: people who are 65 and older, as well as teachers and child care providers.

This expansion comes in response to new guidance the federal government announced recently that opens vaccination up to a broader group sooner than expected. Teachers and child care providers won't be able to make appointments unless they're on a list compiled by their employers or school districts.

All told, the current group of eligible vaccine recipients includes:

I’m over 65. How can I sign up to be vaccinated?

1) Through the state’s community vaccination program

The community vaccination process works differently than COVID-19 testing around the state: There won’t be an opportunity to walk in and be vaccinated.

Instead, if you want to be vaccinated at one of the state’s three community sites — in Rochester, Duluth or Minneapolis — there’s a two-part process: First, you’ll need to have preregistered for a chance to make an appointment. The state will then randomly select people to sign up for each round of vaccinations. If you’re chosen, you’ll then need to sign up for a specific time slot and location for your vaccination.

Preregistration took place in two rounds during the second half of January, in which more than a quarter of a million people signed up. The state recently opened up the system for new sign-ups through their “vaccine connector.” More on that below.

In its community vaccination sites, the state plans to randomly select people in the system for each round of vaccinations, as more shots become available. This new approach is different from the state’s approach in the first week of the pilot program — in which people signed up for open appointment slots on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you have chosen to be alerted by phone, health officials are urging you to have your phone nearby. Reservation-takers will only call each phone number twice, within a two-hour window, and then will move on to the next number.

The state will give the randomly selected people instructions on how to schedule their appointment. If you’re unable to use your slot, the state will randomly select another person to schedule a vaccination instead.

The nine sites the state Health Department originally opened to pilot its community vaccinations will reopen later in February to administer second doses for people who participated in the pilot program’s first round. New appointments will not be scheduled at those sites.

2) Through your health care provider

When the state opened up vaccinations to anyone age 65 and over, it did it so that providers who found themselves with extra doses of vaccine could make sure they use them.

For instance: If a health care facility were to receive a shipment of vaccine, and were to distribute it to all available people in their 1a group but have some doses left over, the facility could start calling patients, to get them vaccinated with the remaining doses. 

Contact your health care provider for specifics on how they are handling this type of distribution.

3) At a nearby clinic, health care system or pharmacy

As more vaccine has become available, the state has begun identifying providers — health care systems, clinics and pharmacies — across the state to receive and distribute it. Those providers are working under current state and CDC guidelines to distribute the vaccine to priority groups.

The state has rolled out a new online tool to help Minnesotans determine when and where to get vaccinated. The “vaccine connector” will alert Minnesotans when they become eligible, connect them to resources to schedule an appointment and provide information on nearby vaccination opportunities. Minnesotans will still have to make their own appointment to get a shot through a vaccine provider. The enrollment form asks for personal data including age, occupation and preexisting health conditions. It also asks for race and gender information, but doesn't require enrollees to provide that data.

If you are over 65, signing up for the vaccine connector will also automatically put you into the community vaccine lottery launched by the state in January.

The state is also providing a vaccine locator map to help people connect with clinics and hospitals — with the important caveat that all are giving vaccines by appointment only and not all locations may be giving appointments at any given time.

What if I’m a teacher, school staffer or child care worker?

Educators and child care personnel should ask their employers about how they can receive the vaccine. State officials have been giving school leaders guidance on how to prioritize distribution. Child care programs are being randomly selected to participate.

Vaccinations for this group began at pilot clinics outside the Twin Cities in January, including a pop-up clinic in St. Paul. Now that those clinics are closing, the state will enlist local public health providers at 35 locations around the state to vaccinate teachers and child care staff.

A state-run vaccination site in Minneapolis is scheduled to open the first week of February, and pharmacies in Brainerd, St. Cloud and Rochester are also opening to educators.

Teachers and child care staff will be contacted directly for appointments with the state program, and local public health officials will reach out to their employers — schools and child care providers — with logistical information.

I’m an in-home day care provider. How can I get the shot? 

Licensed in-home child care providers are eligible for the vaccine and will be contacted at random by the state’s Human Services Department. Currently, nannies or babysitters are not included in this latest expansion of vaccine eligibility because they’re not in what health officials consider a “high-risk setting.”

In other words, because they work in a single home with the same kids every day, they’re not eligible for the vaccine right now.

If I fall into another group, when should I expect to be vaccinated?

Minnesota rolled out a multi-phase vaccination plan in December, when it got its first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine. The initial group included health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. In mid-January the group eligible for vaccination expanded to include K-12 school staff and child care professionals as well as anyone over 65 years old.

The rollout, modeled on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, prioritizes giving the limited amount of vaccine available to the people who need it the most. That has meant starting with those who have the highest exposure to COVID-19, and those who are the most vulnerable to the disease.

Nursing home residents and staff have mostly been vaccinated by this point, and assisted living residents and staff are being vaccinated now. If you’re a member of the initial priority group, according to the plan, you will be contacted by your employer (if you’re a health care worker) or your long-term care facility (if you’re a resident or employee) when the vaccine is available to you. 

The state Health Department says that if you're an independent health care provider, you should be hearing from public health staffers. If you haven’t, a state Health Department spokesperson said MDH recommends calling your local public health department.

There are also federal entities within the state — like Indian Health Service, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, the Bureau of Prisons and others — that get vaccine allocations from the federal government, separately from the state, and are working through their own distribution processes.

Statewide, Minnesota remains in that 1a part of the rollout, though progress does vary in some cases by region. The next phase expands the vaccine eligibility group.

Walz has said the state will need to vaccinate 70 percent of people 65 and older before expanding to the next groups. Here’s a look at who is next up for that eligibility and the timeline the state is attempting to meet.

By April

People with specific health conditions that put them at higher risk of a severe case of COVID-19 will be the next group eligible to be vaccinated. Eligible conditions:

  • Sickle cell disease

  • Down Syndrome

  • Active cancer treatment

  • Immunocompromised after organ transplant

  • Oxygen-dependent chronic lung and heart conditions (COPD and CHF)

  • People with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk

At the same time, targeted essential workers will be eligible, specifically people working in food processing plants.

By April to May

People between the ages of 45 and 64 with at least one high-risk medical condition, including:

  • Cancer

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

  • Down Syndrome

  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies

  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, HIV, bone marrow disease, chronic steroids for more than 30 days, immunodeficiency disease, or taking immunosuppressive medications

  • Obesity - body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m2 

  • Pregnancy

  • Sickle cell disease

  • Diabetes — Type 1 or 2

People ages 16 to 44 will also be eligible if they have two or more of the listed high-risk conditions.

Essential frontline workers are also in this group, including:

  • Agricultural workers

  • Additional child care workers not previously eligible

  • Correctional settings 

  • First responders

  • Food production, food retail and food service

  • Manufacturing

  • Public transit

  • U.S. Postal Service workers

Finally, people age 50 or older who live in a multigenerational household will be eligible with this group.

By May to June

By this time, the state hopes to open up vaccinations for people 16 and older with any underlying health condition, including:

  • Cancer

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

  • Down Syndrome

  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies

  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, HIV, bone marrow disease, chronic steroids for more than 30 days, immunodeficiency disease, or taking immunosuppressive medications

  • Obesity - body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m2 

  • Pregnancy

  • Sickle cell disease

  • Diabetes — Type 1 or 2

In addition, people between the ages of 50 and 64, regardless of their health, will be eligible in this group.

Near the end of spring

The last priority group will be other essential workers. Including people working in:

  • Transportation and logistics

  • Finance

  • Housing/shelter construction

  • IT/communications

  • Energy

  • Media

  • Legal

  • Public safety

  • Water and wastewater

By summer

Finally, after all the state’s priority groups, the vaccine will be opened to the general public.

To get alerts from the state on when you are eligible, sign up through their “vaccine connector” tool.

General vaccine distribution questions

Can I change where I get my vaccine through the state program? The location they gave me is far away.

No. While you select a preferred location during preregistration, under the current program you cannot change the location for your vaccination. If you can’t make it to your assigned community site, you’ll need to cancel your appointment

.The Health Department says that people who don’t have transportation available should try to coordinate with friends and family for a ride, if possible. If you still can’t make it to the site, there may be more options in the future. The department said its goal is to open more locations across Minnesota — though that is dependent on the number of vaccines the state receives.

Can I get my vaccine at the same time as my partner?

While you can preregister more than one person online for the lottery, people are chosen randomly — on an individual basis — so there’s a good chance you will not have that same appointment time as your loved one. It’s also possible one of you will be given a vaccine while the other has to wait.

Will I need to get two shots? 

Yes, at least for now.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations — both of which are being administered in Minnesota — require two doses within three to four weeks of each other. The doses are scheduled 21 days apart for the Pfizer vaccine , and 28 days apart for the Moderna vaccine. You must get both of your doses from the same maker. Public health officials are considering strategies to make sure people who get their first shot come back for their second on time.

The CDC recommends people get their second dose as close to the prescribed timeline as possible, though they recently updated their guidance to allow up to six weeks between vaccines, but only if it’s not possible to follow the recommended interval.

Health officials estimate that it could take up to a few weeks after vaccination to build immunity. Other vaccines that are currently undergoing trials could do away with the two-dose requirement, including a vaccine candidate being developed by Johnson & Johnson. But it’s unclear if or when a one-dose vaccine will be approved.

Will I have to pay for the vaccine?

No. The federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine as part of its national response to the coronavirus; it’s buying the vaccine from the manufacturers and distributing it to the states.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that people getting the vaccine are likely to be asked for their insurance information when they arrive. That’s because the health care providers administering the vaccine are able to charge for a clinic visit, or for an administration fee for the vaccine. But individuals should not be charged.

How do I cancel or check the location of my vaccine appointment?

If you’re selected to make an appointment through the community program, you should receive a text, email or phone call with details about your appointment, including location.

To cancel, you’ll need to use the link you were initially sent via email or text with those details, or call the state’s help line at 833-431-2053.

Are vaccines for Minnesota residents only?

You’ll need to have an address in Minnesota to preregister for a vaccine. But you do not need to be a U.S. citizen.

What types of vaccines are being provided?

As of now, the Pfizer vaccines are being distributed at the community sites.

Will it be easy to get an appointment?

It will likely be tough.

"This is going to be harder than going to Ticketmaster getting Bruce Springsteen tickets,” Gov. Tim Walz said when the pilot sites’ first-come, first-served sign-ups were first announced.

But even with the state’s pivot to the lottery system, there is enormous demand for what has been a consistently limited supply of vaccine.

Keep in mind: People 65 and older make up roughly 16 percent of Minnesota's population — nearly 1 million Minnesotans. And remember: The federal government is allocating the vaccine doses to the states. A fraction of those will be divided among the state’s community sites and partner providers, based on needs.

“Access will increase as the federal government provides more doses of vaccine to Minnesota in the weeks ahead,” the state Health Department wrote in a news release announcing the new sites.

In the meantime, state health and government leaders are asking Minnesotans for patience.

How can I avoid scams?

State health officials say there have been some reports of people being contacted with fake opportunities to secure a vaccine. Infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann shared a few tips for identifying scams:

  • If you are asked for your bank account, credit card or Social Security number, it is a scam.

  • The vaccine is free. So if you are asked for payment of any kind, it is a scam — though you may be asked for your insurance information when you arrive for your appointment.

  • If you are told you can pay to get on a list to receive a vaccine, that’s a scam, too. While some health care systems are curating lists of people interested in getting the vaccine, getting onto a list comes at no cost.

  • If you are told that someone can ship you the vaccine, that is a scam. Vaccines will only be administered by medical professionals. There is no at-home option.

If you believe you are the victim of a COVID-19 vaccine scam, you should file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office.

Other questions about the COVID-19 vaccines

Are these vaccines safe?

The speed with which these vaccines have been developed — 11 months, compared to the several years it has taken vaccines in the past to be approved — has created a ripe environment for concerns over safety.

A COVID-19 vaccine has come quick But expert says that's no reason to fear it

The process has been accelerated in part because the companies making the vaccines have recruited clinical trial participants more quickly, and have also shown federal regulators their vaccine testing data in real time instead of after the testing process is complete.

The federal government also subsidized manufacturing to begin while the approval process was still underway. But those trials have still been subject to the same safety evaluations as any other vaccine, said Ehresmann. The manufacturers have to show how their vaccine studies were designed and how they got their data and their results.

As with all vaccines, some people who are inoculated will have adverse reactions. While the FDA’s analysis of the Pfizer vaccine found serious reactions to be rare, it did find that side effects are common, with a majority of study volunteers experiencing soreness at the site of injection, headaches and fatigue.

How effective are the vaccines? 

Studies have shown that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95 percent effective after both doses are administered.

Ehresmann said it will take about six weeks from an initial vaccination for adults to develop resistance to COVID-19. A yet-to-be approved vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which would be a single dose, is around 85 percent effective.

“As we get more vaccines on the market, our encouragement will be to take the vaccine that (the patient is) offered,“ said Ehresmann. “They will all be effective, they will all have gone through the FDA approval process and they will all be recommended by the (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices).”

Am I required to get the vaccine? 

No, there is no mandate to take the vaccine. Walz said he’s asking Minnesotans to understand that the vaccine “not only protects you and your health, but protects your neighbor,” much like masking and social distancing.

Can I stop wearing a mask after getting a vaccine?

No. For a couple reasons, masks and social distancing will still be recommended for some time after people are vaccinated.To start, the first coronavirus vaccines require two shots; Pfizer’s second dose comes three weeks after the first and Moderna’s comes after four weeks. And the effects of vaccinations generally aren't immediate.

People are expected to get some level of protection within a couple of weeks after the first shot. But full protection may not happen until a couple weeks after the second shot.

It's also not yet known whether the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines protect people from infection entirely, or just from symptoms. That means vaccinated people might still be able to get infected and pass the virus on, although it would likely be at a much lower rate, said Deborah Fuller, a vaccine expert at the University of Washington.

And even once vaccine supplies start ramping up, getting hundreds of millions shots into people's arms is expected to take months.

Fuller also noted vaccine testing is just starting in children, who won’t be able to get shots until study data indicates they're safe and effective for them as well.

Moncef Slaoui, head of the U.S. vaccine development effort, has estimated the country could reach herd immunity as early as May, based on the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That's assuming there are no problems meeting manufacturers' supply estimates, and enough people step forward to be vaccinated.

Do I need to quarantine if I’m exposed to COVID-19 but have already gotten my vaccines?

If you’ve already gotten your first and second doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, you may not have to quarantine if you’re exposed to the virus. But socializing with others is only safe under certain circumstances:

  • if it's been 14 days since your second dose;

  • if your exposure occurred within 90 days of your second vaccine dose;

  • and if you don’t have COVID-19 symptoms.

Minnesota Health Department officials say that as they learn more about the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine, this guidance may change.

What else should I know about the vaccine?

We know there are lots of questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Here are a few of them — along with some answers — from NPR and The Associated Press:

What questions do you have about the vaccine and Minnesota’s distribution plan? Tell us here and we’ll try to track down the answers.

More: COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Correction (Jan. 19, 2021): An earlier version of this story misstated the date when eligible Minnesotans could sign up for vaccination appointments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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