ROCHESTER, Minn. — Everyone's turn for COVID-19 vaccine will eventually come, and almost certainly within the year, if not the next five months.
But with so many limitations on who can get vaccine and how much is available, how will an average Minnesotan, with no special status, ever know their opportunity has arrived?
The Minnesota Department of Health has just launched a universal vaccine notification system — only now in late February, nearly two months after the first shipments of vaccines arrived in the state.
But until now, the state has not needed the Minnesota COVID-19 Vaccine Connector..
The Connector, the state's nonmandatory but official one-stop sorting system for the dozens of categories of vaccine eligibility still yet to be tackled, was developed to inform every Minnesotan when and where they can get vaccine, at the earliest hour that they have become eligible.
The portal, arguably the state's most critical public health initiative created in connection to the pandemic yet, given the centrality of widespread vaccination to the return to open practices, is accessed through a brief, secure and voluntary online sign-up page that is free for all Minnesotans 18 and older.
It can be found at MN.gov/vaccineconnector or by calling 833-431-2053 with translators available.
"This is going to be a great tool to help all Minnesotans no matter who we are, what eligibility category, or when we specifically anticipate getting vaccinated," State Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said during a news conference Thursday, Feb. 18. "We encourage all Minnesotans to sign up soon, no matter what your eligibility status is."
Malcolm said that those age 65 and older and currently signed up for the state selection system are already included in the connector, and do not need to sign up. The signup itself takes just 5 minutes.
After hitting the launch button and completing an initial security check, the site asks for a slate of contact and basic demographic information.
It then asks respondents to list their occupation, choosing from a host of industries, including groups likely to be considered essential workers eligible for earlier access. These include check-off options for agricultural and food service workers, construction workers and employees in corrections It also asks if respondents can come on short notice.
"The motivation for that question, particularly with these first two vaccines which are viable for a very short time once they are opened and then they're lost forever, it is to find out can you come in the next hour or two," Malcolm said.
Critically for the prioritization of those under 65 with underlying conditions, the Connector asks about a host of medical conditions. Answering these and almost all questions unrelated to age and phone number are optional, but they could get a person with say, type 2 diabetes in earlier than others in their age group.
"Many groups are making the case for why they feel like they need to be moved up in the priority scheme," said Malcolm. "We are definitely taking a look at in those next couple of waves, at how are we dealing with those underlying conditions."
The Minnesota Vaccine Connector also asks during signup as to whether you can receive texts, and for general insurance information, another question not required to be answered. You can unregister at any time, and should someone be contacted by their health systems for a chance at vaccine instead of the state notification system, they can follow up with an appointment for vaccine that way as well.
"This tool is a really big step toward connecting all Minnesotans with the vaccine," Malcolm said. "This connector will help everyone plug in to the network once it's your turn to get the shot."
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