Carlton County’s drive-thru vaccination clinics have made steady progress in getting the COVID-19 shot to the county’s emergency workers, but many residents over age 65 are still struggling to get the vaccine.

Dave Lee, the county's public health and human services director, said 300 more essential workers were vaccinated Wednesday, Feb. 3, during a drive-thru clinic at the Carlton County Transportation Building in Barnum,

“It was phenomenal,” Lee said. “This week, it’s going to be continuing with priority group 1A and then our next priority group is child care and E-12 (educators).”

While progress is being made with certain groups, several members of the Carlton County Board of Commissioners said they were contacted by older residents expressing frustration with the difficulty accessing the vaccine.

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Carlton County Public Health Director Dave Lee
Carlton County Public Health Director Dave Lee

“I’ve gotten these same calls asking why are we not getting these vaccinations to these people,” District 1 commissioner Dick Brenner said during the board’s meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9. “I know one couple that called me, she got her vaccination at (Miller Hill Mall). Her husband is 90 years old, but he couldn’t get it. I don’t know how they figure these things out, but it just doesn’t make sense to me at all.”

Commissioner Gary Peterson, District 5, echoed Brenner’s concerns and said while it appears residents living in assisted living facilities have been able to get vaccinations, many of Carlton County’s older residents still living in their homes have been left out.

County officials are following state guidelines when it comes to vaccine distribution, Lee said.

“We are following the guidance that we were given because it’s contingent on getting our doses,” Lee said. “Basically, we have names on vaccines — it’s getting to that point, almost.”

The top priority this week for Lee's department would be vaccinating top tier workers, he said. Carlton County HHS hopes to make progress with teachers over the next week and is already looking forward to prioritizing those 65 and older.

“We’re anticipating getting approval for over 65 and we’ll be setting up a call center, so we’ll be able to register people over the phone,” Lee said. “For people that are homebound ... there’s a number of groups that are going to be able to go out and get those folks that are isolated.”

Each school district has been given their own allotment of doses, Lee said, with superintendents determining which staff have priority. At Wrenshall’s school board meeting Monday, superintendent Kim Belcastro said less than 20 members of her staff are still waiting on vaccinations. Approximately 50 people are listed as staff members on Wrenshall’s website.

Commissioner Mark Thell, District 4, also noted the problem of internet access for many older residents in Carlton County. One of Thell's neighbors is 90 years old and her daughter and caretaker is trying to transition the woman to a nursing home, but they don’t have a computer or internet access to get registered for the vaccine lottery.

“It’s a calamity for the unconnected members of our society,” Thell said.

Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet is registering people age 65 and older for vaccination when it becomes available. CMH is not scheduling appointments, but will contact eligible patients who have registered for the vaccine lottery as it receives doses of the vaccine. For more information about vaccine eligibility or to register go to cloquethospital.com/covid-vaccine/.