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Vax Facts: What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines

KARE 11's Vax Facts team answers some of the most common questions about the coronavirus vaccines.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — KARE 11's Vax Facts team answers some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine:

Who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?

On May 12, the Minnesota Department of Health said kids 12-15 can receive the Pfizer vaccine after a CDC vaccine advisory committee gave approval.

All Minnesotans 16 years of age and older were already eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 30. The state recommends using the Vaccine Connector tool to help find a location to get your shot.

You can now directly schedule an appointment using the state of Minnesota's Vaccine Connector

Gov. Tim Walz announced April 26 that Minnesotans can now directly schedule an appointment to receive a COVID-19 shot at one of the state's community vaccination sites. Simply log on to the Vaccine Connector website, sign up, and then book an open vaccination slot at a location near you by clicking on the "Get an appointment today!" button. Currently there are community clinics set up in Saint Paul, Bloomington, Oakdale, Mankato, Duluth, Rochester, Lino Lakes and St. Cloud. 

A federally-supported Community Vaccination Program location at the State Fairgrounds specifically serves residents of socially vulnerable zip codes in and around Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

If all appointments at your chosen location are full, Minnesotans can also sign up to be informed when they are able to book a time slot to be vaccinated, or be notified about other vaccination opportunities near them.

Walmart, Sam's Club offering vaccines on walk-up basis

More than 80 Walmart and Sam's Club locations across Minnesota are now offering COVID-19 immunizations to customers and associates without making an appointment. In a statement released Tuesday, the company said the move allows guests to walk into their pharmacy and get protected against COVID-19 where they already shop for groceries and health care essentials. 

Those who would rather make an appointment can do so on the Walmart and Sam's Club websites.

Additionally, the company is rolling out new programs to both encourage people to get a vaccine and continue efforts to increase access across the country.

“Now that supply and eligibility have expanded, it’s even more important for us to reach underserved and vulnerable populations to ensure equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart and Sam's Club executive vice president of Health & Wellness. “Widespread vaccination is the only way we will eventually end the pandemic and help our country reopen, and we don’t want anyone to get left behind as we enter this new chapter in our fight against COVID-19.”

Hy-Vee offers free COVID-19 vaccines without appointments

Are you among the eligible Minnesotans still waiting to be immunized against COVID-19? Hy-Vee Inc. announced on Wednesday, April 28 that all Hy-Vee store pharmacies will now offer free doses with no appointment. That will provide the option to walk in and receive a vaccine when it is convenient for the customer. 

Those who would prefer to make appointment can do so by logging on to the Hy-Vee website, selecting "Find Appointments" and completing the informed consent form and appointment selection. Hy-Vee says vaccines are free for everyone, regardless of whether they have insurance or Medicare Part B coverage.

How can you book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment at a pharmacy?

The list of pharmacies offering the COVID-19 vaccine is expanding in Minnesota. Locations and contact information for booking appointments will be found on the state's vaccine locator map, and those signed up for Minnesota's vaccine connector tool will be notified about the new immunization opportunity.

Beginning Feb. 12, eligible Minnesotans can book a vaccine appointment on the Walmart or Sam's Club website. More information can be found here.

Thrifty White pharmacy locations are also expecting to get about 8,000 doses per week through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. More information is available here.

Gov. Tim Walz announced Feb. 22 that Hy-Vee has been added to the state pharmacy vaccine network, joining Thrifty White and Walmart in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Hy-Vee expects to administer thousands of vaccine doses to adults 65 years of age and older at more than 30 Hy-Vee sites across the state. More information can be found here.

CVS has started administering vaccines at multiple locations across the state of Minnesota. Appointments are limited and only available at select locations.

Walgreens has also expanded to over COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Minnesota. You'll have to make a Walgreens account before scheduling an appointment.

If you're 65 and older or in one of the other categories being offered limited COVID-19 vaccine doses, what should you know?

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) continues to update the guidance on where to find a COVID-19 vaccine on mn.gov/vaccine.

For adults ages 65 and up there are a couple of options. The state is sending thousands of doses of vaccine to more than 100 sites including hospitals and clinics. Minnesotans are encouraged to communicate with their provider to get a vaccine. They can also find locations near them that have vaccines available with a new online vaccine finder tool.

Even those who are not yet eligible can take a look at their potential timeline for any state in the U.S. through planyourvaccine.com, a new online tool from NBC News.

RELATED: How to get a COVID-19 vaccine at your primary health care provider

The state is also continuing to utilize community vaccination sites after a successful two-week pilot. Nine permanent sites have now opened in Oakdale, Minneapolis, Duluth, Rochester, Bloomington, St. Paul, St. Cloud, Mankato and Lino Lakes. The most up-to-date information about the community sites is available at mn.gov/vaccine. MDH is asking Minnesotans to "check back often" at this website for appointment opportunities.

On April 5, the state announced it will open a new federal mass vaccination site at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Beginning April 14, the site will administer a combination of Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson doses, with the goal of vaccinating over 100,000 total people - 3,000 doses per day, seven days a week, for eight weeks - at the State Fair site.

This site will be different from existing community vaccination sites as it will target underserved Minnesotans living in the zip codes near the fairgrounds with the highest scores on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.

On it's website the CDC says a number of factors play into where someone ranks on the index, including poverty, lack of access to transportation and crowded housing.

RELATED: Live updates: New community COVID-19 vaccination site to open in Rochester

Educators, school staff and child care workers are now eligible to be vaccinated, but health officials say they will be contacted directly if they are selected to sign up for appointments. These groups will be able to receive vaccine doses at the Minneapolis community site, 35 county local public health clinics, and pharmacies in Brainerd, St. Cloud and Rochester.

Other details about how eligible groups can find a vaccine are available at mn.gov/vaccine.

State officials warn that demand for COVID-19 vaccines still outstrips supply.

RELATED: More than 35,000 COVID vaccine doses made available for Minnesota seniors

If you're not yet eligible for a vaccine, how will you know when you are?

The state of Minnesota has launched an online Vaccine Connector tool that can help you figure out when, where and how to get your COVID-19 vaccine. As of March 30, all Minnesotans ages 16 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Fill out a form and you'll be alerted when you're eligible, and connected to resources for scheduling an appointment.

If you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, should you get a vaccine?

Yes. Roughly 9% of Minnesotans have officially tested positive for the virus. If you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, state health officials say patients have at least 90 days of immunity from another infection.

Two recent studies, from Australia and South Korea, show antibodies can last six to eight months after infection. And a vaccine will only extend your protection.

“If you’ve had COVID-19, yes, we do recommend you get vaccinated,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minn. Dept. of Health Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division.

If you currently have COVID-19, should you get a vaccine? 


State and federal health officials say the vaccine is intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If you currently have COVID, you should stay home,” said Patsy Stinchfield, nurse practitioner and senior director of infection prevention and control at Children’s Minnesota and a liaison to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. “You should not go to a public vaccine place. You should recover and not get vaccinated while you are acutely ill.”

The advice is to wait until you can leave isolation, which according to the CDC is 10 days after first symptoms and 24 hours without fever.

RELATED: KARE II Explain: Everything you need to know about vaccines

How quickly does the vaccine start to produce antibodies?

Clinical vaccine trials showed some protection at seven days after the shot, according to Ehresmann.

Seven days is when the body starts showing replicated antibodies. However, the vaccine’s full, 95% protection needs at least 28 days and two shots with the Pfizer vaccine, and 35 days and two shots with Moderna’s.

So, just because you got the shot, does not mean you are protected right away.

How can I get a vaccine appointment with my health care provider?

As of early February, health care providers were still asking that patients do not call them directly to ask about COVID-19 vaccines, as they want phone lines available for other patients seeking treatment. 

KARE 11 has compiled a list of vaccine appointment availability and policies for many of major health care systems in Minnesota in this article.

RELATED: How to get a COVID-19 vaccine at your primary health care provider

Why aren’t clinics, hospitals and pharmacies vaccinating people 24-7?

According to Ehresmann, it’s not like a food truck where you stand in line and order till the food runs out. There are massive logistics to work out.

Each time the state gets a batch of vaccine, it’s allocated to various hospital systems, public health departments and pharmacies, and it’s up to those cites to arrange vaccination for specific groups that qualify so far.

Not to mention, at this point the directive is to save a second dose for every patient. So health officials warn that it may appear that vaccines aren’t going into arms, but the statistics also reflect second doses waiting for patients in need of that full protection.

“We knew that initially it would take a little while to ramp up because of the process of education, training and setting up sites. But now that that’s happened our expectation is that the vaccination numbers should add up quickly,” said Ehresmann.

RELATED: Live updates: MDH unveils new COVID-19 vaccine dashboard

For instance, Children’s Minnesota gets about 1,000 vaccine doses a week. They give them to qualifying employees until they run out and then wait for the next batch.

“Our biggest rate-limiting factor is supply. So for Children’s, we would do 24-7 and we have been ready to go vaccinating evening nights and weekends, but our supply has been very limited,” said Patsy Stinchfield, nurse practitioner and Senior Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s Minnesota.

When will the vaccine arrive to your hospital, your clinic or your pharmacy and how will you know when it’s your turn to get a shot?

Bottom line is health officials can’t yet answer either question, because it all depends on supply.

“Our hope is that as more vaccine comes online, that we will be able to speed through these groups,” said Ehresmann.

The state’s vaccine plan includes groups broken down into three phases and subphases.

Phase 1

1a – High-risk health care workers and many long-term care residents.

1b – Frontline essential workers and adults over 75 years old (expected in February)

1c – Includes adults 65-74, people 16-64 with high risk conditions and other essential workers.

Phase 2

Includes adults in hard hit communities, according to the MDH.

Phase 3

Any provider will have access to vaccine, and anyone who wants it, can get it.

RELATED: Infectious disease doctor answers your questions about the new Moderna vaccine

What's different about mRNA vaccines than other types people normally get?

Instead of being a dead virus or weakened virus going into our bodies, like with the flu, polio or mumps shots, the messenger RNA vaccine tells our bodies to make one kind of protein the coronavirus uses to attach to our cells and then build antibodies for that protein so it can’t attach.

There is no actual virus in the mRNA vaccine and no potential to get COVID-19 from it.

Also, mRNA is cheaper and faster to make, which is good in a global pandemic. There's no need to incubate viruses in chicken eggs; there’s no need to grow a virus at all. Scientists, like Marc Jenkins, Director of the Center for Immunology at the University of Minnesota say the only drawback with mRNA is that it is fragile. These molecules are designed to deliver a message and then break down. So, this is why they must be kept in temperatures below -70 degrees F.

“It’s kind of like Snapchat,” said Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner and senior director of infection prevention at Children's Minnesota. “Our cells are like ‘Hey turn this on, turn this off,’ and the message goes away. Or like a sticky note that gets placed. ‘Don’t do this. Kill that. Work on that.’ In this case it is sending in a message that says ‘Here is a new protein. It’s a bad player. Make antibodies against it.’"

Can kids take the COVID-19 vaccine?

No, not yet. But testing for a pediatric vaccine is being done right now, part of it here in the Twin Cities.

“We are very anxious to get a vaccine to our kids. We are projecting closer to summertime for the studies to be done and robust enough to be given to children,” said Stinchfield.

Is it safe and/or normal to ask for youth to volunteer in a vaccine trial? 

“Children in research is a very normal thing that we do. We do it and have seen great strides in reducing pediatric cancers because children have been in trials. Flip it around. How ethical is it to not protect children? How ethical is it to give them a vaccine we haven't studied in them? So, we are trying to do this carefully and thoughtfully and it's going to be the best thing to vaccinate all of us,” said Stinchfield.

Do you have to take the same brand of vaccine for both doses?

Yes. The Pfizer and Moderna versions of the vaccine have slightly different doses of mRNA in them. They work the same way, but you shouldn't interchange them, according to the CDC, which says it still doesn’t know how the two vaccines would react taken together.

Also, the doses of the Pfizer vaccine are recommended to be taken three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is recommended to be taken four weeks apart.

How will clinics, pharmacies and hospitals know who received a vaccine? 

The State of Minnesota will keep track of who got the vaccine, when they got it, and which type they received through the registry.

“We will put people into our local Minnesota immunization registry and keep track of it that way. Pharmacies, hospitals, clinics all have access to that. So it will all be recorded,” said Stinchfield.

She said patients can opt-out of the registry as well.

Does a new coronavirus variant found in the U.K. mean the vaccine won't work? 

Not necessarily. Most viruses mutate. Some more than others. Scientists say this isn't a big surprise. At this point, there is no research indicating this variant is more or less contagious or deadly, or if the vaccine won't work against it. Scientists are keeping an eye on it.

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