(FOX 9) - People across Minnesota logged on, refreshed and scrambled for available appointments Tuesday, the first day that everyone age 16 and up was eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Gov. Tim Walz and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine together at the Vikings' training facility in Eagan. Access to a vaccine will quickly expand in April, Walz pledged.
"We've got the opportunity over the next 3-4 weeks to potentially vaccinate 1.5 million Minnesotans, or close to it," Walz told reporters, a mark that would require federal allocations to increase substantially.
Minnesota's vaccine push is accelerating as the state's infection numbers surge, fueled by worrisome variants. Public health officials reported 1,278 new cases statewide Tuesday, compared with 870 the previous week and 716 the week before. Tuesdays typically are among the state's lowest volume days.
Walz said he was "shook" by comments from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, who said this week that the country was headed toward "impending doom" if it did not adhere to mitigation measures. The governor, a first-term Democrat, declined to directly address the future of economic restrictions he imposed to mitigate spread.
State public health officials reported Tuesday that 1 million Minnesotans are fully vaccinated, 23 percent of the state's adult population. More than 1.6 million have now gotten at least one dose, or 37 percent.
By expanding eligibility, Walz put an additional 900,000 people in the pool, adding them to the 3.5 million who were already eligible.
Vaccine supply will not initially meet demand, but allocations from the federal government are increasing. Minnesota health officials expect 304,000 first doses per week will arrive in early April, up from roughly 200,000 last week.
Minnesota's supply is a combination of the state's allocation and the federal government's direct shipments to chain pharmacies.
Republicans are among the groups that are most skeptical about the vaccines. Pawlenty, Minnesota's governor from 2003-2011, gave a strong endorsement before he got the J&J shot.
"Getting vaccinated is not just 'Minnesota Nice,' it's Minnesota smart," he said. "These vaccines are safe and incredibly helpful, and everyone should get them."
Sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector
About 850,000 people have registered on the website, state officials said.
If you are selected for an appointment at a mass vaccination site, you will be notified via email, text or phone by Primary Bio, Vault Health or SpeciaLysts (Solv). Emails will arrive from firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or Solv (SpecialLysts), so be sure to keep an eye on your spam folder. Phone calls will arrive from 954-716-7771.
Anyone with questions about the community vaccination program can contact the Minnesota COVID-19 Public Hotline at 1-833-431-2053 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Appointments are required at the mass vaccination sites.
Contact your health care provider or pharmacy
Minnesotans can contact their health care provider to schedule a vaccine appointment. The state is directing providers to prioritize appointments for older Minnesotans, those with underlying health conditions, and those in frontline jobs.
Make sure your contact information is in your MyChart account with your health care provider so they can contact you if they have available appointments.
Sign up on pharmacy websites
Minnesotans can sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments directly on pharmacy websites:
The state is asking chain pharmacies to redirect doses from rural locations—where there are often available appointments—into the Twin Cities metro.
Visit the Vaccine Spotter website, which is a tool created to help people track down COVID-19 vaccine appointment openings at pharmacies across Minnesota. The website is updated every few minutes.
Use the Vaccine Locator Map to find a vaccine provider near you
Minnesotans can use the state’s Vaccine Locator Map to search for vaccine providers in their area. All vaccinations are by appointment only, and each provider manages its own schedules and appointments.
Not all providers are offering appointments to everyone right now. People should contact providers to confirm vaccination location and hours and that they have vaccine doses and appointments available.
Join a ‘vaccine hunters’ Facebook group