Zong Xiong, left, gives Leng Yang, right, his first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Hmong Village Shopping Center on Saturday, March 6, 2021. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

The vaccine situation in Minnesota is changing fast. With close to 60 percent of the state’s adult population fully or partly vaccinated against COVID-19, obtaining a dose is not the burden it was even a few weeks ago. 

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden said he would direct pharmacies and health providers to start offering walk-in vaccination appointments in an effort to get 70 percent of U.S. adults vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4. 

Pharmacies in Minnesota are following suit, and health providers are starting to offer vaccine scheduling for people 16 and older with minimal delay. 

Recently, demand for the vaccine has been dropping. And health providers and governments are reaching out to specific communities. In light of that changing vaccination picture, Sahan Journal is updating our FAQ. 

We want this guide to serve as a one-stop resource. Feel free to check back here frequently: We will update this guide as the situation changes.

Am I eligible for a vaccine? Is there a wait? 

Every person in Minnesota aged 16 and older is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s also not as hard to find a vaccine anymore. Walmart and Sam’s Club recently started offering walk-in vaccine appointments at 80 locations in Minnesota. Health providers like HealthPartners, Park Nicollet, and M Health Fairview are now scheduling vaccine appointments for anyone 16 and older, even non-patients. 

Will children ever be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine?

On Monday, May 10, the federal Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 . (The vaccine is already approved for teens ages 16 and up, along with adults.) The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to follow the FDA’s move on Wednesday, May 12; Governor Tim Walz’s administration has celebrated the decision and announced plans to move quickly to get Minnesota teens vaccinated—but no details have yet been released.

Pfizer is also planning to apply for emergency approval that would allow children aged 2 and older to use its vaccine, starting this September.

Where can I obtain a vaccine? 

The CDC’s online Vaccine Finder allows users to type in their zip code to find vaccine locations near where they live. The Vaccine Spotter is another good online tool to find currently available vaccine appointments. Both tools focus on big stores like Walmart and Hy-Vee and pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS.

If you want to see all locations offering vaccines across the state, the Minnesota Department of Health offers an online map.

State officials also recommend people register on the Minnesota Vaccine Connector, a website registration page created by the Minnesota Department of Health. After you register, the site will alert you that you’re eligible and suggest locations near your home where you can obtain a vaccine dose. 

You can also try signing up with the following local “vaccine hunter” Facebook groups for tips about available appointments: Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters (helping all of MN); St. Paul, MN: Vaccine Assistance (help for all Minnesotans); and Twin Cities Vaccine Hunter.

Can I go directly to places like Walmart or CVS and ask for the vaccine? 

Walmart and Sam’s Club are currently offering walk-in appointments at all of their Minnesota pharmacy locations. Doses for walk-ins will be available as supplies last. Expect more pharmacies to begin offering walk-in appointments in the coming days.

It’s still best to schedule a vaccine appointment before visiting the location. After finding locations with vaccines near you, go to their website to register. If that’s difficult, call them up  to ask for vaccine appointment availability.   

You can also call your local health provider or the health clinic you usually go to for treatment and ask for appointment availability.

Should you get the Pfizer, the Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Health officials have raised almost no safety concerns about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Tens of millions of doses have been administered successfully and without problems.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine (also listed as the “Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine”) is also considered broadly safe. For a brief window in April, the CDC paused distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

This hiatus followed reports of seven women, out of nearly 7 million people, who experienced a rare form of blood clot after receiving this vaccine. None of the women live in Minnesota. One of the women died and another was hospitalized, according to the New York Times.

Following a two-week pause, the CDC on April 23 once again recommended distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and it is currently available. Because the seven women experienced thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS)—that is, a blood clot—the CDC now says that women under 50 considering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “should be aware of the rare but increased risk of this adverse event.” And there remain other COVID-19 vaccine options available. The CDC concluded that the known benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, outweigh its very small risks.

MDH made the same conclusion, stating in an April 30 newsletter that the CDC and the federal Food and Drug Administration are both confident that “the vaccine is safe and effective” and that “available data suggests the TTS risk is very low.”

Is one vaccine more effective than the others? Trial data showing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine efficiency rates higher than Johnson and Johson’s can be misleading, experts point out. The vaccines haven’t been compared against each other. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was also tested against some of the more contagious COVID-19 variants while the other two were not, which may account for its lower clinical trial efficiency rates. 

Do I have to prove I am eligible for the vaccine? 

Yes. Bring an ID with you when you go to get the vaccine. Health insurance is not required to access the vaccine, but if you have health insurance, bring that information. Some places will bill your insurance for reimbursement. But there will not be a co-payment due. 

Do I need to show a certain type of ID at the vaccine site? 

It depends. State vaccination sites do not require a specific type of ID, such as a government-issued photo ID or a driver’s license, according to Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. You can use those–but you’re not limited to them.

Some places are more strict. A spokesperson for Walgreens, for example, says that anyone receiving a vaccine at a Walgreen’s must “show a valid government ID to confirm their identity.” At the same time, the spokesperson says, the pharmacy  “will not turn away individuals who do not produce an ID” unless it’s “specifically required by a jurisdiction.”

Does the vaccine cost money?

No. The vaccine is free to the public. 

You won’t have to pay anything out of pocket, at the appointment or afterward. 

If someone asks you to pay for the vaccine, do not do so. State leaders recommend you report any such instance to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.

If you get a bill from insurance for the vaccine, don’t pay it. State officials instead recommend that you report any such incident to the Department of Commerce at (651) 539-1600. 

Do the vaccines contain ingredients like pork, gelatin, or anything else that would not be considered halal? 

The vaccines do not contain any pork products or gelatin, said M Health Fairview spokesperson Jill Fischer. She added that this is one of the most common questions patients ask of Fairview staffers before getting vaccinated.

Imam Hassan Ali Mohamud of Islamic Da’Wah Center in St. Paul added these misconceptions come from rumors circulating in the community. 

During the holy month of Ramadan coming up, does getting the vaccine count as breaking my fast? 

Islamic scholars from around the world, including several imams in the Twin Cities, say that receiving the vaccine will not break your fast during Ramadan. Imam Hassan Ali Mohamud said that he’s hearing this concern from some people in the community. Medicine not taken orally is fine during sunlight, he said. He noted that he is taking his own second dose of the vaccine in  daylight hours during Ramadan.

“Some people are saying by the time Ramadan comes, the vaccine will come and we cannot take it,” Imam Hassan said. “We are saying, take it.” 

I am pregnant or am planning to get pregnant, and have heard that the COVID-19 vaccine can affect my fertility. Is this true? 

It is safe to be pregnant and get vaccinated, according to limited data so far, the CDC cites. Similarly, no evidence exists that the vaccines will lead to infertility. While the vaccine shows no evidence of impacting fetal health or your ability to bear children, if you are unvaccinated and pregnant, you are at a higher risk of severe illness if you contract COVID-19. 

If I’m undocumented, can I still get vaccinated? 

Yes. You do not need to disclose your immigration status while receiving the vaccine. If you are an immigrant, you may be asked your country of origin on a form to fill out before receiving your dose, but answering this question is optional. The purpose of this question is to track whether the vaccine is being distributed fairly. 

Useful Links:

Minnesota COVID-19 Vaccine Connector

Map of vaccine locations in Minnesota

CDC Vaccine Finder

Minnesota COVID-19 response: Who’s getting vaccinated?

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...