MOORHEAD — A Moorhead couple seeking their COVID-19 shots finally succeeded with the help of good samaritans, and they’re not the only ones to have benefited.
Gerry and Linda Helgeson, in their mid-70s, were told by their medical provider they’d be called when it was their turn to be vaccinated.
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But Linda grew anxious waiting because her husband has diabetes.
One pharmacy said vaccinations were available by online appointment only — too daunting for her limited computer skills. To her, the process felt almost like "a secret."
“That was the frustrating part,” Helgeson said.
Then came a Facebook post from someone who could help.
Vicki Haugen of Rollag, Minn., and her cousin, Amy Eriksmoen of Fargo, have been securing vaccinations for seniors who aren’t technologically savvy.
The women figure they’ve assisted more than 50 people, some they don’t even know.
The recipients include a couple in their 90s who have no cell phone or computer at home, and a person waiting for an organ transplant.
“One situation fed another, I guess. And it became our kind of tagline… ‘Every shot’s a story,’” Haugen said.
The women got the Helgesons an appointment at a pharmacy 45 miles away, in Breckenridge.
The couple received their first dose of Moderna vaccine on February 17 and will return for their second on March 17.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Helgeson said.
Different generations, roles
This ripple effect of good deeds began with Eriksmoen in January.
She was seeking a vaccination for her father, who has an underlying medical condition that puts him at high risk of COVID complications.
At the time, Minnesota was rolling out a pilot vaccination program.
Eriksmoen secured one of the coveted appointments, but soon realized her dad was two weeks shy of turning 65, and therefore too young to be eligible.
Rather than give up the appointment, Eriksmoen offered it to Haugen — a second cousin, who’s more like a dear aunt-figure in her life, she said.
Haugen has been forwarding the favor to others ever since.
At age 66 and a retired social worker, she’s the “connector” to older friends, family and acquaintances who might need the vaccine.
Eriksmoen, 36, and a stay-home mom, checks websites throughout the day for available appointments and snaps them up.
The Thrifty White pharmacy site is the easiest to navigate, she said.
An account isn’t required to log in, and it’s easier than other sites to sign up on someone else’s behalf.
But users have to be quick, because they get about 15 minutes to commit to an appointment and enter basic details before it goes back up for grabs.
The seniors are impressed and grateful.
“They were blown away that we could get them an appointment,” Eriksmoen said.
Other options than waiting
Local health care providers use criteria set by the state to determine which of their patients get the vaccine and when.
Kelsey Nefzger, immunization program manager at Essentia Health, said randomized patients are chosen and given an automated phone call letting them know they can schedule an appointment.
They also get a message through their electronic patient account.
Currently, patients 65 and older can get scheduled automatically, Nefzger said, because the allocation coming from the state recently has been “generous.”
To set an appointment, call 844-663-1068, she said.
The process is similar at Sanford Health.
Tiffany Ahrendt, director of patient access, said Sanford will send a message to patients through their electronic account, a letter and a call or text message when they’re ready to set up a vaccine appointment.
For non-Sanford patients, there is an online form to register to be put on a waiting list.
Haugen and Eriksmoen are quick to point out they’re not critical of the state or medical clinics when it comes to administering the vaccine, because it’s a huge undertaking.
“We know it can’t flow perfectly, so we’re just trying to help people get in the flow, wherever we can,” Haugen said.
Mainly, they want people to know there are other options.
Helgeson was thrilled she and her husband could get the vaccine, helping them feel confident enough to venture out recently and watch their high school senior grandson wrestle in his last home match.
They still masked up and kept distance from others in the stands.
“It feels like you can relax your shoulders, a little bit,” she said.