FARGO — As North Dakota and Minnesota roll out their COVID-19 vaccination programs, many people have been left wondering when they can get the vaccine — and where.
In response, area vaccinators are asking for the public's patience, as the federal dispersal of vaccine has often been unpredictable and in smaller amounts than health care providers have hoped.
All of that makes communicating concrete expectations to the public difficult, according to health officials, whose perspectives on vaccine distribution are reflected below in question-and-answer format.
In some cases, answers have been edited for space and clarity.
Q: How are COVID-19 vaccines being distributed in the U.S.?
A: Because very few doses of vaccine will be available initially, a phased-in approach is occurring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices determines priority groups and state officials review federal guidelines in coming up with their own priorities when it comes to who gets vaccinated first.
Q: Where is North Dakota in its vaccine rollout?
A: Health care workers in North Dakota are finishing up vaccinating people in what is known as the phase 1A priority category. In North Dakota, phase 1A groups include health care workers in direct contact with COVID-19, first responders and long-term care residents and staff.
At the same time, vaccinators in North Dakota are starting to vaccinate people in what are considered to be phase 1B groups. In descending order of priority, those groups include:
People 75 and older; persons 65-74 with two or more high-risk medical conditions; staff and persons living in certain congregate settings; persons 65 and older with one or more high-risk medical conditions; persons 65 and older with or without high-risk medical conditions; persons with two or more high-risk medical conditions regardless of age; child care workers; workers employed by preschools or kindergarten through 12th grade; teachers, nutritional services, aides, bus drivers, principals, administrative staff, custodians, etc.
Q: Where is Minnesota in its vaccine distribution?
A: Minnesota health care providers are aiming to finish vaccinating their phase 1A groups by the end of January, with the lag largely due to vaccinators not getting the amount of vaccine they requested or were promised, public health officials say.
Those phase 1A groups include: hospital staff working with patients who may have COVID-19; staff and residents in skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes; emergency workers who provide direct patient care; COVID-19 testers; and COVID-19 vaccinators.
Minnesota has yet to completely define who will be served in its phase 1B effort, or when that effort will start.
However, Minnesota recently set up nine pilot sites to serve adults 65 or older, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educators, school staff, and child care workers, essentially adding those populations to its list of phase 1A groups.
The sites include locations in Fergus Falls, St. Cloud and Thief River Falls.
Residents 65 years or older may register to be vaccinated at a pilot site, or placed on a wait list, by visiting www.mn.gov/covid19/ under "Find My Vaccine," or by calling 612-426-7230, or toll free at 833-431-2053.
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Q: How will I know when I can get a COVID-19 vaccination shot?
A: In general, if someone is a patient of a private health care provider such as Sanford Health or Essentia Health, those providers know who you are and will reach out to you to establish a communication plan and, ultimately, to arrange an appointment for getting a shot when vaccine becomes available for your priority group.
People not affiliated with a health care provider will be vaccinated by public health agencies at the point in time their particular demographic becomes eligible for shots.
Q: What are health care providers doing to communicate vaccine information to the public?
A: Holly Scott, communications specialist at Fargo Cass Public Health, echoed many in the health care field interviewed for this story when she said this about the area's vaccine rollout:
"There's a newness to it and there's a learning curve and there are processes that need to be put in place," Scott said.
"No single provider is going to be able to answer every single question that comes up, especially when it comes to vaccine availability," Scott said, adding: "We are working so incredibly hard to be available, to be a place they (patients) can come and tell us, 'Hey, I'm here, don't forget about me.'
"We ask for patience," Scott said. "Not everyone will be able to be vaccinated all at the same time. We're going to provide multiple vaccination opportunities as we work through the different priority groups in phase 1B."
Resources for finding out more
In North Dakota, anyone with questions regarding vaccinations or COVID-19 who does not have internet access can reach the North Dakota Department of Health public health hotline at 1-866-207-2880 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
In Minnesota, people with questions regarding COVID-19 can call the state help line at 651-297-1304, or 1-800-657-3504, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.