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

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With each passing day, more COVID-19 vaccines become available in Minnesota. But confusion still frustrates many who are actively trying to obtain a dose. 

President Joe Biden recently pledged to have vaccines available for everyone in the country by the end of May. Until then, demand to get vaccinated will outweigh the supply of vaccines for some time.

In the eyes of critics, this means vaccine availability currently favors people who have the resources to track them down, leaving behind those with less means. 

Sahan Journal is offering a FAQ on how eligible people can find vaccines—right now. 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? 

Every person in Minnesota aged 16 and older is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. As of now, though, some health providers may prioritize the following groups: 

  • Everybody 65 and older. 
  • Health care workers and long-term residence workers. 
  • Teachers and child care workers. 
  • People with sickle cell disease, Down Syndrome, and active cancer. 
  • People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.
  • People who are immunocompromised from an organ transplant. 
  • Food processing-plant workers. 
  • Adults aged 45 to 64 with one of these medical conditions: Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, chronic kidney disease, obesity, heart conditions, and pregnancy.
  • Adults aged 16 to 44 with two or more of the above medical conditions. 
  • Essential frontline workers in agriculture, airports, jails and prisons, food production, restaurants, first responders, the postal service, courts, public transportation, and manufacturing. 
  • Adults aged 50 and older living in multi-generational housing. 
  • Workers in transportation, finance, housing construction, media, law, information technology, public safety, and water and wastewater. 

An overview of all that information can be found in this chart:

Where can I obtain a vaccine? 

It’s still a little tough to find a vaccine right now. State officials recommend people register on the Minnesota Vaccine Connector, a website registration page created by the Minnesota Department of Health. 

After you register, the site is meant to alert you that you’re eligible and suggest locations near your home where you can obtain a vaccine dose. 

The CDC’s online Vaccine Finder allows users to type in their zip code to find vaccine locations near where they live. If you want to see all locations offering vaccines across the state, the Minnesota Department of Health offers an online map compiling them.

The Vaccine Finder provides a lot of information about big stores like Walmart and Hy-Vee and pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS. These outlets receive a lot of vaccine doses, but figuring out where you can get an appointment on any given day remains difficult. 

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? 

You need an appointment scheduled before you can receive a vaccine. After finding locations with vaccines near you, call them up or to ask for vaccine appointment availability or go to their website to see if you can register. 

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?

Update, April 13: The state and federal government are instructing health providers and pharmacies to pause distribution of all Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses following reports of six women 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 is currently hospitalized, according to the New York Times.

The CDC is investigating whether the blood clots are related to the vaccine. Nearly seven million people in the U.S. have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (also listed as the “Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine”). 

MDH officials say anyone in Minnesota currently scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should watch for their vaccine provider to cancel or reschedule their appointment. Officials add that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine accounts for just about 6 percent of Minnesota’s total vaccine supply to date, and maintain that the pause shouldn’t significantly slow down the state’s vaccination rate.

“While this issue appears to be extremely rare, CDC and FDA are acting in a very cautious manner that underscores our commitment to vaccine safety,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “We will be closely monitoring the federal review process and use that information to help guide our efforts here in Minnesota in the days ahead.”

Health experts recommend you get whichever of these vaccines are first available. In other words, they do not recommend you wait for a preferred vaccine brand if another one is already available to you. Trial data showing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine efficiency rates higher than Johnson and Johson’s can be misleading, experts point out, because they haven’t been compared against each other. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which is currently on hold; see guidance above) was also tested against some of the 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. Most places administering the vaccine will ask for your identification to prove you are 65 or older. Health insurance is not required to access the vaccine, but if you have health insurance, bring your health insurance information. Some places will bill your insurance for reimbursement. But there will not be a co-payment due. 

Teachers and child care workers should also bring their employment IDs with them. 

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

It depends. For people 65 and older, the state’s five community sites require people bring an ID with them during vaccination to prove their age. But they 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. 

Are mass vaccination drives happening? 

As vaccines become more available, several local providers are beginning to offer more regular signups. Here are a few that Sahan has learned about and how to reach out to them. You may not be able to get a vaccine appointment right away, but ask for the next available appointment. 

—Each Friday, the People’s Center Clinics & Services will hold weekly vaccine events for its patients at the Brian-Coyle Neighborhood Center in the Cedar–Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. All current People’s Center patients aged 65 and older are eligible, and so are all current People’s Center patients aged 50 and older with existing health conditions. Oromo, Amharic, or English speakers should call (612) 876-9330 to schedule an appointment. Somali or English speakers should call (612) 338-5578. 

If I hear on social media that vaccines are available today in my neighborhood, is it real? 

It may be. Efforts are underway to make more vaccines available in underserved areas. State officials are allowing health providers to expand vaccines to people who fall outside of the currently allowed categories if they live in areas falling on the top of the federal Social Vulnerability Index. 

Often these appointments circulate quickly on social media, so by the time you call, appointments may be filled. 

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. 

With 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?

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Public Hotline: (1) 833-431-2053

What else do you want to know about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Twin Cities? 

If there is anything you would like to understand better, or want to share an experience related to receiving the vaccine, please submit your questions and comments below. 

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...