A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition back to normal life is almost on the horizon—but making plans to get the vaccination is not always easy. Bridget Dant Hovde, a 1999 White Bear Lake grad, has taken it upon herself to help older Minnesotans set up vaccine appointments.
Hovde was the caretaker for her mother before her death in 2015. The two were very close. When the vaccine became available to seniors, Hovde was concerned about her neighbors, who are in their 70s. She now lives in Fridley, and has developed a very close relationship with them.
“I started to ask around, and found out my mom’s friends and neighbors couldn’t get vaccine appointments,” she said. Many of them were told by clinics that they would be in touch by phone, but then never received any more information.
The online Vaccine Connector through the Minnesota Department of Health is one of the primary ways people can find out when they are eligible to receive the vaccine, and where and when they can get it. These appointments often send people to large vaccine clinics in the Vikings stadium, or Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
“The older generation can’t go stand in line for four hours or want to be in a big group of people,” Hovde said. So she started looking for alternatives—exploring appointment openings at local pharmacies. She offered to set it up for her neighbors and acquaintances, and soon began waiting up late at night to watch when new appointment slots became available.
Classmates from high school began to reach out about their parents—the Hennings family from the White Bear Lake area was just one family who received help from Hovde. Hovde’s Facebook page began to blow up with new requests.
“People I had never met were reaching out, begging for help,” she said. She handles all the requests while also working full time from home and raising two small children. She also recently launched a homemade caramel business, Bridget’s Blue Ribbon Caramels. Her scarce spare time has been committed to helping everyone who asks—in a single day, she estimated she must have booked more than 150 appointments.
“There was a woman that came to my house shortly after her appointment, and as soon as I walked outside, she started crying. Tears just streamed down her face,” Hovde said. “She was 65, her husband was sick and only had one kidney, and they couldn’t get a vaccine anywhere. She stopped at my house to say thanks and drop off a card to say how much anxiety I had alleviated out of her life. She said she was in a really dark place, she hadn’t seen people, she’d been scared to go out because of the virus, and she couldn’t believe a stranger responded to her. She told me she was given a positive reason to continue living. That one women’s response made it all worthwhile.”
Hovde has heard hundreds of stories like this one, about people in precarious health situations who just need a little extra help. Her heart goes out to those who don’t have the economic or physical means to do this for themselves.
“The biggest misses for Minnesota are the less fortunate who don’t have any internet access or tech-savvy children to help them or connections to find somebody like me,” Hovde said. “The other piece we’re 100 percent missing are people who are homebound, bedbound, that don’t live in a congregate living facility. It’s not an option at this point. Some people think, why do they need it? The reason is that it will let them see grandkids or great-grandkids without the fear of being unsafe.”
It’s hard to keep count, but Hovde estimates she’s booked more than 400 appointments since she first began at the very end of February. The people she has helped have thanked her in numerous ways—sending cards, donating to charities in her name and buying her homemade caramels through Facebook.
Vaccine scheduling happens mostly online, which can be a barrier for seniors who don’t have internet access or are unsure how to navigate electronic scheduling. This lack of resources is frustrating to Hovde, and to many others. For those looking for resources over the phone, she recommends calling the Vaccine Connector Hotline through the MDH at 833-431-2053. There is also a new hotline through the governor’s office that can be reached at 651-297-1304.
Hovde recommends the Minnesota Vaccine Hunter group on Facebook as a good resource for more information. She also suggests checking daily with local pharmacies (Target, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Coborns, Hy-Vee, Thrifty White). The Pfizer vaccine in particular won’t be usable after it’s taken out of cold storage, and there’s a fairly good chance of getting inoculated before it goes to waste by calling the pharmacies in the late afternoon, Hovde said.
There’s a lot of information out there about the vaccines, true and untrue, and people sometimes hesitate based on what they’ve heard, Hovde said.
“My opinion is, the first vaccine available to you is the best vaccine,” she said. “At this point, there’s not enough research to even know which one is the best. The best thing is that you’re protected. I just personally feel like we’ve got to get the world back to normal. The amount of depression, anxiety, seclusion we’ve been dealing with … we cannot go on the way we’re living today.”