MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The state’s new COVID vaccine pilot program kicked off at noon on Tuesday, and though appointments were available to anyone 65 and older, the online sign-up faltered, overwhelmed by interest.

According to state officials, the website peaked at 10,000 hits per second. Most saw a screen explaining the high number of calls, and that the vendor is working to correct the technical issue. Seniors calling into the numbers provided by MDH had problems getting through as well.

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Officials apologized for the problems, including MDH’s Kris Ehresmann.

“I think frankly the challenges that we’re facing today are good challenges in that we have a population of Minnesotans that really, really want to be vaccinated, and I think that what we’re seeing is this pent-up demand for vaccine,” Ehresmann said.

MDH says it’s learning lessons Tuesday to improve the process going forward. Officials are stressing patience. Many of the pilot vaccination sites are full, and only adding people to the waiting list.

Tim Scanlan is one of thousands of Minnesotans over 65 who spent their entire afternoon trying to sign up for a vaccination.

“I was prepared to both log in and call those numbers that they gave us, and so I did both immediately right at noon,” Scanlan said. “Immediately got into what they call the waiting room, and that was the last screen we ever saw. I still have mine up, it’s been an hour and forty minutes.”

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Vena Lapping is 29 days free of COVID symptoms, and more anxious than ever for added protection from the virus.

“You could see on your cellphone it was just calling, you know, kind of in orbit and then a couple of times it would go through and then it would just disconnect,” Lapping said. “[Having COVID was] the sickest I have ever been in my life, and I will be the first one to get a vaccine. In fact, we’re driving to Florida, you can get an appointment down there, even if you are a non-resident.”

Minnesota receives about 60,000 doses of the COVID vaccine per week. The new phase includes people 65 years and older, child care workers, and educators, a group which includes about a million Minnesotans. At the current pace, it would take four and a half months to get through to the next phase.

About 10% of the state’s COVID-related deaths have been people in their 60s. People of color are also disproportionately impacted as well. Child care workers and educators are technically eligible for this batch, but they need approval from their employer.

The pilot community sites are in Thief River Falls, Mountain Iron, Fergus Falls, St. Cloud, Anoka, Brooklyn Center, Marshall, North Mankato, and Rochester.

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Apart from registering online, You can also call the phone numbers 612-426-7230 or 833-431-2053.

Reg Chapman