Appointment supply struggles to keep up with demand as vaccine eligibility expands

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With the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the nation’s arsenal for combating COVID-19, the race to get shots in arms is accelerating — President Joe Biden says all American adults should be eligible for doses by May 1.

Earlier this week, Gov. Tim Walz expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to more Minnesotans as the state crossed the 70% vaccination threshold for people ages 65 and older. More front-line workers and people with certain underlying medical conditions can now receive their shots.

On Friday, Walz said it will be "weeks, not months," before everyone has an opportunity to get a shot. But with more people vying for limited appointment slots, some Minnesotans are running into difficulty when attempting to sign up for a vaccine.

Minneapolis resident Emma Rainwater is one of those people. She said she was added to the new eligibility group because she was diagnosed with cancer last year and because of her weight.

Over the course of several days, Rainwater and her husband tried to sign up for vaccines at Walgreens and Wal-Mart with no success.

"Wal-Mart and Walgreens make you go in and check each individual store to see if they have an appointment available in a certain week period," Rainwater said. "Thrifty-White, however, says, ‘Hi, Minnesota has 500 vaccines available. Here are the locations where those are at.’ Pick your poison."

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So she and her husband drove from Minneapolis to Alexandria on Friday morning to get their first doses.

"We both said, ‘7 a.m., first shot? Fine. Do it. Two hours for a drive? Fine. Do it.’ Anything to get ourselves vaccinated because that was the important thing to us," Rainwater said.

The number of appointments at pharmacies varies from week to week depending on demand, and pharmacies don’t know how many doses will be available on any given week until the shipment arrives.

In statements provided to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Walgreens and Wal-Mart both said they are working to adjust their online sign-up systems as vaccine eligibility expands to more groups.

Until then, people like Rainwater are forced to check each day for updates to try and nab an appointment slot.

"It was just a matter of persistence and tenacity on my part to just continue to refresh, continue to search and then really pay attention to my emails for when that notification came through that they’ve done a big drop," Rainwater said.

The Minnesota Department of Health has an online vaccine connector that will notify residents when they’re eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.