This story was originally published on March 26, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced everyone 16 or older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines starting Tuesday, meaning nearly one million more Minnesotans are allowed to get in line. State officials caution, though, demand still outpaces supply so not everyone will be able to get their shot right away.

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Here are helpful tips for finding a vaccine appointment, according to the founder of MN Vaccine Hunters, a group of more than 42,000 on Facebook that assist people in tracking down appointments.

“My biggest piece of advice for anybody newly eligible, is to take a deep breath and sort of get to know the system a little bit,” said Maura Caldwell, one of the founders of the group, who’s helped hundreds of Minnesotans track down appointments. “Understanding where you can get vaccinated is a big first step.”

She said to be patient, too, because more vaccines will come online in the next several weeks.

Sign Up For Vaccine Connector

The state has a Vaccine Connector program to help notify you when a vaccine becomes available to you. People who sign up for the connector may also be randomly selected for one of the state’s community vaccination sites.

Check With Your Health Care Provider, Though Many Are Still Focusing On People With Health Conditions

“I think a lot of people at least in the beginning were waiting for their health system or their primary care provider to reach out to them, and that’s not necessarily the case,” Caldwell said.

These 10 major health care systems are only offering it to people with certain underlying health conditions at this time, an official said. These systems are working as a coalition.

  • Allina
  • CentraCare
  • Children’s MN
  • Essentia Health
  • Health Partners
  • Hennepin Health Care
  • Mayo Clinic
  • M Health Fairview
  • North Memorial Health
  • Sanford Health

Abe Jacob, chief quality officer at M Health Fairview, reiterated this during the news conference on Thursday. When supply upticks, the categories will expand, he said.

Caldwell reminds people to check if they are eligible with their health care provider if they haven’t already been notified by logging onto your MyChart account if you have one.

Walz and state health officials anticipate more vaccine supply beginning the first week of April, which is part of the reason they are expanding eligibility. The governor is still asking providers to prioritize older Minnesotans, people with underlying conditions and those in frontline jobs, but the expansion will allow more flexibility when needed.

“The desire for folks to take this is so great that I don’t want one vial sitting on the shelf. I don’t want one extra day to go by before somebody gets it,” Walz said.

Retail Pharmacies

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Caldwell says Walmart, Walgreen’s and CVS tend to add new appointments everyday sometimes super early in the morning. Thrifty White will drop more than 1,000 spots once a week. Hy-vee is also offering shots.

She recommends making an account with those stores to be ready to book.

Her group, the MN Vaccine Hunters Facebook, often posts when pharmacy slots are available. The MN Vaccine Hunters also have a website for those who don’t use the social media platform.

“Somebody in this group will tell you as soon as those appointments are available to start booking, otherwise you could check all day, every day and miss it,” she said.

The website Vaccine Spotter consolidates all available appointments at these pharmacies.

There also Twitter pages dedicated to sending out alerts for available spots at pharmacies across the state. You can sign up for their notifications at the usernames: @MNVaccineAlerts and @MnVaxAlerts

More Availability In Greater Minnesota, Appointments In Twin Cities Metro Go Fast

If you’re willing to drive, there are more appointments available outside the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area.

The metro-area pharmacies usually book out in minutes.

As of Friday night there are several appointments available in the Northwest corner of the state, according to the Vaccine Spotter.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcom said state officials are looking into why there are more appointments available in parts of the state and the ratio of eligible groups who have had their shots.

“If we do have parts of the state where there is unused supply, we are having conversations to reallocate to the metro area,” Malcom said, noting they don’t have the power to force them to move doses but that pharmacies tend to be “very receptive to help with geographic balance.”

16-Year-Olds Can Only Get Pfizer Vaccine

Abe Jacob with M Health Fairview said that while 16-year-olds are now eligible, they only qualify for Pfizer. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson is approved for 18 and above.

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“We are going to have to be very careful about making sure that the right people who are indicated to get the vaccine are getting the right vaccine,” Jacob said. “It’s a vaccine safety issue.”

Caroline Cummings