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COVID Vaccine Pilot: 180K Minnesotans Already Signed Up For Vaccine Lottery

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- State health officials on Tuesday said the 180,000 Minnesotans 65+ who so far have registered for the COVID-19 vaccine lottery do not need to sign up again each week until they are selected.

The state on Monday changed its system for registering at its nine vaccine pilot program sites to a lottery in an effort to avoid the free-for-all rush that caused significant delays when the clinics launched last week.

The 24-hour registration period began at 5 a.m. Tuesday and will close 5 a.m. Wednesday. The Minnesota Department of Health will then randomly select up to 8,000 seniors around 7 a.m. Wednesday and those individuals will be notified by phone, text or email to schedule the appointment. It does not matter what time someone signs up, the chances of getting selected for a vaccine will be the same, officials said.

Those 180,000 Minnesotans had signed up as of Tuesday afternoon, and those not chosen in the lottery will not need to re-register each week, as the waitlist is ongoing.

"People that are on the waitlist tomorrow after 5 a.m. will be part of that random process and when that is run, subsequently everyone that has registered will continue to be included in that," said Tarek Tomes, commissioner of Minnesota IT Services. "The changes we have made put Minnesota in a better position to quickly ramp up once more vaccine becomes available."

Tomes said the new system drastically reduced wait times to register online, with an average response time online of 2.6 seconds or faster, and an average call time of about nine minutes.

But there were still glitches. Some Minnesotans wrote emails to WCCO saying they waited upwards of an hour. Tomes said there was a significant level of traffic right at 5 a.m., which could have caused delays, but overall the process was smooth.

"I think the experience for Minnesotans was dramatically improved," he said.

Seventy-eight-year-old Nancy Hagen of Mendota Heights told WCCO that when she tried to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine pilot sites early Tuesday morning, she got a message saying her address did not qualify for the lottery.

"The question that came in my mind is 'This is really strange,'" Hagen said. "I was disgusted because that's not what I understood."

Tomes said the program is statewide and no person 65+ is excluded because of where they live. He urged Minnesotans to try to register again.

Health officials said people need to make sure they click the address that auto-populates in a drop down menu as they are registering. This is a "verified" address, and the step is essential. Not choosing that address or a typo could have triggered the message, a department spokesman said in an email.

In addition to seniors, the pilot sites also offer appointments to teachers and child care workers selected by their employer. In total, up to 11,700 people will be vaccinated at these sites this week.

Separately, the state has allocated 15,000 doses for a 5-day vaccination event at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul just for teachers and school staff Thursday through Monday, Feb. 1.

Minnesota will receive an additional 11,000 vaccine doses at least for the next three weeks, per the governor's office. Right now, the state gets about 60,000 per week from federal government.

More than 284,000 Minnesotans have received at least one vaccine dose and roughly 67,600 have received both doses, according to the state vaccine dashboard.

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