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What to know about the latest expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in Minnesota

Who qualifies, where to get a shot, and whether you’ll have to show proof of a job or health condition.

State officials say an easy way to get connected with a dose is through their Vaccine Connector website.
State officials say an easy way to get connected with a dose is through their Vaccine Connector website.
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Beginning Wednesday, 1.8 million Minnesotans will be newly eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, an enormous expansion of who can get a dose.

The first people to be eligible in Minnesota were health care workers, seniors and teachers. But now, a whole host of workers and age groups will have access to vaccines. That includes everyone from grocery store workers and airport staff to people with certain health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 cases.

Given the complicated nature of the next vaccine phases, here are answers to some commonly asked questions about who’s eligible, how much vaccine the state is getting — and how to get a shot:

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If I was already eligible before this announcement and haven’t gotten vaccinated, can I still get shots?

Yes. State officials say seniors, health care workers and teachers remain the highest priority for COVID-19 vaccines. So anyone who fits those categories can still get a shot through options such as: their health care provider, a state-run vaccine clinic and pharmacies like Thrifty White and Hy-Vee. 

If I’m newly eligible, where can I get a shot?

The state has several different ways to administer shots, and officials say an easy way to get connected with a dose is through their Vaccine Connector website. You can sign up, choose to answer some of the state’s questions, and health officials may reach out to you with more information.

You can also try to sign up with pharmacies. The state may coordinate vaccines with businesses for people in certain industries, such as meatpacking workers or restaurant employees. “We’ll be working with some of the bigger plants to do on site,” said Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen on Tuesday, of meatpacking plants. “The smaller plants working through the connector and working with their local county health.”

Jan Malcolm, the Minnesota Department of Health commissioner, told reporters “the great majority” people with underlying health conditions can expect largely to be served by their health care providers. “Folks with these conditions typically would have a pretty solidly established relationship with health care providers so those providers would be reaching out to their patients and getting them in for vaccination,” Malcolm said.

Side note: Malcolm told reporters that some vaccine distributors in areas that rank high on a federal Social Vulnerability Index scale have some flexibility to vaccinate outside of the groups currently eligible under state guidelines. The vulnerability index factors in racial and ethnic demographics, income and other factors to try and reach people who are at higher risk of severe cases of COVID-19 and make vaccine distribution more equitable.

Will there be enough supply for me to get a shot soon?

It depends. The state has directed people who have the most serious health conditions, as well as workers at meat processing plants, to get priority over others in the newly eligible vaccine groups. But those groups are relatively small, and Malcolm said the state hopes to vaccinate them in a matter of weeks.

The state will still likely have shots to give out for others during that time period. Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Wednesday that there is “still much a higher demand than there is a supply, but the supply is increasing every week.”

A conservative three-week estimate of vaccine allocation from the federal government “puts us in a position to start moving quickly through this very large group,” Walz said.

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Malcolm said with current projections of vaccine supply, she expects it to take four to six weeks to at least partially vaccinate the larger group of essential workers and people with underlying health conditions.

Which vaccine will I get?

For starters, you aren’t required to take any vaccines. But if you’re offered one type of vaccine and you prefer another, you may not be able to access that alternative right away.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Malcolm told reporters that the federal government has told them that “all communities” should have access to “all vaccines.” 

“So we will not be saying this particular community can only have access to Johnson & Johnson or only have Pfizer or only have Moderna,” Malcolm said.

Still, Malcolm said some settings “would seem to be particularly great” for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, such as food workers, and people who face transportation challenges. That’s because the one-dose vaccine is easier to store and easier to give out since it doesn’t require people to come back for a second shot. The state plans to suggest which vaccines may be best for certain groups.

“The best advice that any one of us can give is to get the first vaccine you’re offered,” Malcolm said. “The best vaccine is the one that’s protecting you today.”

There are some minor differences in how effective the vaccines are, though they are somewhat difficult to compare. Some have been hesitant to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But Malcolm said Tuesday the J&J shot is “extremely effective” at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths. 

To prove it, Malcolm received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Wednesday afternoon. Malcolm may qualify as a public health worker under the newest vaccine guidance. She is also over age 65, meaning she was already eligible either way.

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Will I have to show proof of my job or health condition?

Maybe. Malcolm said if you have an underlying condition and are getting vaccinated by your health care provider, they will know about your status. But she said it’s possible some essential workers seeking vaccination at, for example, a pharmacy might be asked to show proof of their occupation.

A state vaccine information website for businesses says employees “should be prepared to show some kind of proof of employment” when they get a shot. That may be an employee badge, a pay stub, or a letter from their employer, the site says. “This is the best way for the clinic to know they are eligible for vaccination and employees should do their best to remember to bring this to their appointment,” the site says. 

What’s this thing about ‘multigenerational’ housing?

Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Director Kris Ehresmann
One group of people newly eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine are those age 50 and older who are living in what the state calls multigenerational housing. Kris Ehresmann, MDH’s infectious disease director, said the state defines that as a household where people from three or more generations live. That could be an “elder, a parent and a grandchild,” living together, Ehresmann said.

It does not include parents living with their young children or their adult children. Ehresmann said if you are older than 50 and caring for grandchildren whose parents are absent, you should check with your health care provider or another vaccine provider to see if you qualify.

If I work in an eligible occupation, such as a restaurant server, but I’ve been laid off, am I still eligible?

No. The Department of Employment and Economic Development says you need to be working, whether you are laid off given the regulations on businesses like restaurants or a seasonal worker who expects to be back on the job later. “Because physically being in a workplace setting creates the risk of COVID-19 spread, employees must be currently employed to meet eligibility requirements,” said agency spokeswoman Jen Gates in an email.

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Do Uber or Lyft drivers count as eligible ‘public transit’ workers? How about grocery delivery employees?

Rideshare drivers probably aren’t eligible. DEED referred MinnPost to the Met Council when asked about Uber, Lyft and similar services. 

In an email, spokeswoman Bonnie Kollodge said the council doesn’t have any public transit contracts with Uber or Lyft and they sometimes subsidize the cost of a taxi ride. But when a customer chooses to use a taxi the ride isn’t considered a public transit service, just a private taxi service.

Food retail workers are eligible generally, but it’s unclear whether grocery shoppers and delivery workers, who are often independent contractors, can get vaccines. These workers became a large part of the food supply system for people who didn’t want to go in-person to a grocery store, or weren’t safe doing so.

DEED also referred MinnPost to the Met Council, though Kollodge said the question was outside the scope of the council’s knowledge. DEED considered “workers supporting groceries” broadly to be essential workers when stay-home orders were in effect in 2020.

On the state’s website, it says if a person isn’t sure whether they’re considered an essential worker eligible for vaccination to ask their employer when in doubt.