The Minnesota Department of Health has launched a new website to better inform people who register when it's their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The website is designed to alleviate confusion around where the vaccination sites are located and which groups are eligible to be vaccinated.

With pharmacies, like Thrifty White, health care providers, like Sanford Health and Essentia Health St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes, as well as, U.S. Veteran's Affairs clinics, county health clinics and tribal health care clinics all administering vaccinations, navigating the different procedures can be daunting for people trying to find their place in the vaccination line.

At Sanford Health Clinic in Detroit Lakes, the staff have been personally calling everyone eligible for a vaccination. The list is created through their provider analytics program every week, said Breanna Adams, director of the Sanford Health Clinic in Detroit Lakes.

"You don't need to call your clinic, we will call you," said Adams. "The big thing is, be patient as we are going through this with (all the other vaccine providers) … and we will be calling you when we get doses, if we get doses, and we just continue following our process. Be as patient as possible."

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Sanford Health receives its vaccine allotment from the Minnesota Department of Health and those doses are divided among the various Sanford Health clinics in the area. The clinic doesn't know how many vaccination appointments to make for the week until they receive their allotment numbers every Monday.

In Detroit Lakes, the clinic has received about 200 doses per week and is vaccinating persons involved in schooling, or child care, and those over the age of 75 to ensure not a single dose is wasted, she said. In total, 528 first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to their patients. On Saturday, Feb. 20, the clinic will begin administering their first of the second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to more than 230 patients.

"I do feel that by the time we get to (the next eligibility group), it'll be a little more streamlined," said Adams. "Right now, because we have such small doses, we're still calling."

Taressa Lukes, nursing manager at Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes, said she, and her staff, know how stressful the uncertainty around the vaccine is, but patients shouldn't take their frustrations out on the nurses, or reception staff.

"For the last year, it's been people being frustrated, angry," said Lukes. "We try to explain our process … but they still are very mad."

There are no out-of-pocket costs for any individuals who receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Sanford Health.

A shot in the arm for Thrifty White Pharmacy in Detroit Lakes, Perham

Thrifty White Pharmacies in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Mahnomen are among those retail outlets receiving allotments of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In Detroit Lakes and Perham, Thrifty White received 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine Feb. 12 and distributed them all via individual appointments over several days, said Jeremy Faulks, corporate director of specialty pharmacy and COVID-19 special projects for Thrifty White.

“All the doses we receive are through the federal program, and all are the Moderna vaccine,” he said, which doesn’t require deep-freeze storage like the Pfizer vaccine.

The Moderna vaccine is easier for pharmacies to work with, since it is stable at refrigerator temperatures for 30 days, he said. “It sounds like we’re going to use it up a lot faster than that,” he added.

Following criteria laid down by the state of Minnesota, the first 100 doses available to the general public through Thrifty White were given to people age 65 and older, who mostly signed up online, Faulks said. For those who have no Internet access, it’s possible to make an appointment by calling the pharmacy, he added, but online appointments are greatly encouraged and will likely get patients in faster.

He said Thrifty White in Detroit Lakes was expected to receive another 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine in a week or two. “Hopefully, it’s weekly (deliveries) but that’s up to the federal government,” he said.

It’s also up to Mother Nature and package delivery services: A delivery did not arrive because of the major winter storms down South, and upcoming deliveries are uncertain. There is also a chance that the next delivery could be doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which last for four days after thawing.

A locked refrigerator houses thirty-seven vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, among other drugs, before they will be administered to more than 230 patients receiving their second dose of the vaccine at Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
A locked refrigerator houses thirty-seven vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, among other drugs, before they will be administered to more than 230 patients receiving their second dose of the vaccine at Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Sanford Health also needed to reschedule vaccination appointments due to the weather and not being able to receive their vaccine shipments, said Adams, but those cancellations have already been rescheduled.

Whichever vaccine shows up, it will come courtesy of a federal Centers for Disease Control pharmacy program. “Right now, we have it at about 80% of our Thrifty White pharmacies in Minnesota and North Dakota,” Faulks said.

Because it’s a federal program, the vaccine is free to everyone, he added. “If you have insurance, they are required to cover it -- there’s never a charge for the patient,” he added.

The vaccine ships in packs of 100 doses, “so that’s what most of our pharmacies have been getting (outside the big metro areas),” he said. “They actually ship it frozen and we thaw it when we get it so we can start using it.”

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses per patient for key effectiveness, so Thrifty White patients are scheduled for both doses at the same time, 28 days apart, Faulks said.

“The goal is to get the vaccine out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, so we can get back to normal as soon as possible,” he said.

Severe side effects from the vaccine have been almost nonexistent --one person so far out of 35,000 vaccines administered by Thrifty White, Faulks said, but pharmacy staff is trained in the use of epinephrine pens and has them ready to go if needed.

Essentia Health St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes is asking patients to sign up for a MyChart account, so they can quickly, and easily, schedule their appointment when one becomes available. If a patient does not want to use MyChart, Essentia Health staff members are also making personal phone calls to their patients when they are in an eligible vaccination group, according to an Essentia Health spokesperson.

Essentia Health St. Mary's Detroit Lakes also receives their vaccine allotment through the Minnesota Department of Health.

Becker County Health Supervisor Kristin Bausman said residents should get their vaccination wherever they can, as soon as they can.

"If they want the vaccine, get it where you can," she said.

Bausman said the state's new vaccine connector website should help residents with their vaccination questions.

"When they are able to get the vaccine, where they are able to get the vaccine, it should help with all of that," said Bausman. "As they complete that, then, as we roll out more groups it'll let them know who's eligible to get the vaccine and where they can go."

Otter Tail County COVID-19 vaccine effort

Otter Tail County Public Health sponsored vaccine clinics the week of Feb. 16, giving COVID-19 vaccine doses to early education through high school educators and staff, as well as childcare providers.

In addition, second doses will be administered to those in phase 1a who received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine at public health clinics, according to an Otter Tail County news release. COVID-19 vaccine clinics for eligible populations continue to be done by invitation only. Otter Tail County Public Health does not currently have COVID-19 vaccine for those who are 65 and older.

The Fergus Falls Community Vaccine Pilot Site will be open to administer second doses of vaccine only to those who have scheduled appointments. No new appointments will be scheduled at this site. People who have questions about their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine should call 833-431-2053 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. General community vaccination questions can also be directed to this call center.

Otter Tail County Public Health does not currently have a registration list for the public to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.