Senior residents in Minnesota have been given 24 hours to partake in a COVID-19 vaccine lottery, which will involve doling out appointment slots in a randomized process instead of a frenzied first-come, first-serve basis.
"The updated process accounts for anticipated high demand for appointments online and at the call center and allows for more equitable and orderly access to appointments by eliminating the first come, first served system," per a news release from the governor’s office.
Gov. Tim Walz took to Twitter Monday to share news of the update, writing: "Today we made changes to Minnesota’s community vaccination efforts. No matter how many doses we get from the federal government, whether it’s a few thousand or many more, we're going to get the vaccine we have quickly into Minnesotans’ arms."
The 24-hour window for those aged 65 and up launched at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, and residents were encouraged to pre-register online. Those waitlisted from the week prior would be automatically enrolled in the lottery. The state said selected individuals will be notified via text, email, or phone on Jan. 27 to finalize appointments.
Seniors were instructed to have their phones handy, if they choose to be contacted via phone, because reservationists will make two attempted calls amid time constraints.
Each person can only sign up once, and appointments cannot be transferred to someone else, officials said. If someone is selected for an appointment, and they cannot make it, someone else will be randomly chosen on the pre-registration list.
The first-come, first-serve basis for reserving appointments has left many feeling stressed and frustrated. One retired librarian in Florida, 71-year-old Barbara Shlevin, placed 184 calls to the Broward County health department and hospital systems, looking for a coronavirus vaccine, per the Washington Post.
"You had at least six months to get ready. You could have figured out a better way to do this," Shlevin told the paper of the state's unclear sign-up process. "It shouldn’t be this hard."
State data from Minnesota list some 335,000 doses already administered, as of Jan. 22, with those aged 18 to 49 receiving the largest share of doses. The state is prioritizing health care personnel and residents in long-term care facilities in its initial phases of rollout, in line with federal recommendations, with a recent expansion to include those 65 and up, teachers and child care workers.
Gov. Walz tweeted Tuesday that schools will work with employees to land appointments.
News of the vaccine lottery invoked a flurry of criticism on social media. One user questioned who would help the elderly who live at home alone to pre-register.
The news from Minnesota comes as the state health department just announced the country's first known case of a coronavirus variant initially detected in Brazil. The variant, known as P.1, was confirmed in a Twin Cities metro area resident who had recent travel history to Brazil.
Health officials said the strain is believed to be more transmissible, but it is not clear whether it causes more severe illness. There are also eight reported cases of the more contagious U.K. strain in Minnesota, which U.K. officials just said may be more deadly. The health department advised mitigation steps like mask wearing and physical distancing can reduce the spread of all strains.