Scarcity of metro appointments spurs ‘vaccine tourism’

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If you’re among the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans age 16 and older and not in a high-priority COVID category, you likely know how difficult it is to find a vaccine appointment in the metro area.

While the metro area has more people that want vaccine than available doses, the opposite is true in greater Minnesota. That means many appointments are available if you’re willing to drive, in some cases hundreds of miles. It’s creating a sort of "vaccine tourism."

"This was never in our mindset when we were thinking about future ideas to get people to travel," says John Edman, the state’s tourism director at Explore Minnesota. "But if that’s something that gets people discovering places that they haven’t discovered before, I think it’s a pretty good thing for everybody."

The state isn’t tracking vaccine-generated tourism, but social media sites are full of frequent updates on vaccines available everywhere. A couple of the most popular sites are "Minnesota Vaccine Alerts" on Twitter or the "Vaccine Spotter" website.

Dustin Elder of Minneapolis found an appointment in Detroit Lakes, 200 miles from Minneapolis, on after spending five frustrating hours online looking for a metro-area appointment.

"Thankfully, I have an employer that has been very, very supportive during the entire pandemic that was able to give me the time to get up there and take care of it," Elder told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Elder says while in Detroit Lakes, he and his partner visited with family and friends who live in the area and spent time at a local brewpub and diner.

"I know many people that are taking trips up to Duluth to get them," Elder says. "I have a few people that have gone down to Rochester."

Edman says he’s glad to see Minnesotans getting vaccinated while also visiting places they might otherwise not see.

"If they get together with family and they go to Bemidji or go to a small town to get a vaccine, they might discover something they haven’t discovered before in that community," he told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

And maybe while getting vaccinated, they’ll also give small communities an economic shot in the arm.