'Don’t forget me': Independent-living elderly hope they aren’t left behind in vaccine program 

This week nearly 200,000 Minnesotans older than the age of 65 entered their name into a lottery system with the hopes of being randomly selected to receive the COVID19 vaccine. Among them are elderly individuals who live independently and haven’t had access to the vaccine through assisted living programs. 

Mary Ann O’Meara is 91 years old and living in the home she and her husband built in St. Louis Park 62 years ago. She gets by with help of her children who live nearby. 

"My kids come and see me and bring lunch or dinner or something like that. They’re always so thoughtful and so nice," Mary Ann said. 

On Tuesday her daughter Gerry Haeger Sproles helped her get pre-registered for the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Gerry said she and her sister tried to sign their mother up for a vaccine last week, when MDH was operating on a "first come, first serve" basis. They weren’t able to get through due to the overload of interest crashing the sign-up site. She said her experience with the new system on Tuesday was a much different experience. 

"This morning was extremely easy... fingers crossed," Gerry said. 

Mary Ann’s name is now put into a lottery with nearly 200,000 other Minnesotans. This week, around 8,000 of them will be selected to receive the vaccine. Gerry says, she feels as though her mother’s age should move her further up the line, and give her priority over younger Minnesotans, instead of selections being made at random. 

"[Younger people] being in the same bin as my mom at 91 doesn’t seem... I don’t want to say not fair, because that’s not right, but it seems like there should be maybe a tier," Gerry said. 

Mary Ann says she knows many other Minnesotans her age - living in assisted living or a nursing home - have already gotten their vaccine. She’s worried that the fact she lives independently is hindering her chances of getting vaccinated. 

"Don’t forget me at home. I’m not at a hospital or a nursing home," Mary Ann said. 

On Tuesday the Minnesota Department of Health said this randomization selection process is all part of a pilot program they’re testing to learn how to best distribute large amounts of the vaccine. 

When asked why MDH is using a randomized model instead of prioritizing Minnesotans based on age and pre-existing conditions, they responded with a statement that says in part, "The pilot sites were an addition to this process as a way to get more people over 65 vaccinated more quickly and as a way to test a system for vaccinating much larger groups of people in the future. We shifted from a first-come first-serve model to a randomized sample to give more people a fair shot to be selected for a shot at a pilot site."

Officials with MDH said as more doses of the vaccine become available they will be sent to the more than 1,400 clinics and pharmacies that have signed up to be a part of vaccine distribution. They say most Minnesotans over the age of 65 will be vaccinated at one of these clinics or pharmacies, rather than in this temporary MDH program.