The way Minnesota allocates the COVID-19 vaccine is coming under fire, from no less than the group representing the state's hospitals and healthcare providers.
On Friday, the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) issued a letter to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcom calling for an end to the vaccine lottery system — which was set up last month to replace a problematic first-come, first-serve appointment model.
In the letter, MHA President Rahul Koranne said the vaccine allocation process has "reached an untenable crossroads," as it's "hurting patients and communities."
The reason? The new system is leaving a lot of outstate Minnesota providers in the lurch, Koranne explained:
"My members are increasingly put in the impossible position of telling their patients and their communities that they do not have vaccines for them. We have members who have had no vaccine for three weeks, leaving clinic infrastructure that exists to rapidly get shots in arms idle."
This is despite the fact that hundreds of clinic and hospital staff have "been preparing for months" for vaccine distribution by scaling up their infrastructure, making upgrades such as the ultra-cold storage that the vaccines require.
In an interview with the Star Tribune, Koranne said it was a "pretty shocking move" for the MDH to switch to a lottery system, in which "only five or six" rural providers — out of more than 50 across the state — get the vaccine each week.
Before the lottery, vaccines were distributed "through eight regional health care coalitions" that had long been in place, the paper notes.
In the MHA letter to state health officials, Koranne says that the vaccine is now sent to "three mass vaccine sites, which are out of reach for many Minnesotans."
"Early in the pandemic, your department repeatedly emphasized the regional coalitions' central role to responding to the pandemic," Koranne wrote. "We urge you to immediately return to this model beginning Monday, Feb. 8 to distribute the vaccine as you did early in the vaccine rollout."
Launched late last month, the lottery featured the benefit of allowing vaccine-seekers to sign up only once for eligibility — as opposed to once a week.
Under the previous program, signing up for an appointment was based on a first-come, first-served basis, which caused massive issues online and extremely long waits over the phone.