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16 and 17-year-olds can only get Pfizer, so one mom drove 18 hours to get daughter her shot

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    MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the case of Megan Mikkalson, you can measure a mother’s love — 1,100 miles and 18 hours round trip from Rochester to the tiny town of Rolla, North Dakota. It’s a long journey she would do all over again to get the COVID-19 vaccine for her 16-year-old daughter, who has an autoimmune disease.

“I had been watching Florida and Arizona to see if they would have availability, we were willing to drive wherever it took,” Mikkalson said.

Mikkalson’s daughter Madelynn had spent a year in lock down learning from a screen and practicing dance online. Between Madelynn’s underlying health condition and her own, she said the family couldn’t take any risks.

In February, she grew desperate. Minnesota had only open up vaccines to health care workers, long-term care facilities, people 65 and older and some teachers. At the time, the prospect of her daughter getting to reunite with friends and have some normalcy again seemed far out of reach.

She connected on Facebook to a network of internet sleuths who were hunting down appointments and found one in Rolla, North Dakota. It took 18 hours round trip driving in the freezing rain, but she and her daughter arrived to the tiny town on the Canadian border and got their shots on February 23. There were extra doses and they jumped at the chance.

“It’s like a weight lifted off my chest,” she said. “When you’re out there trying to get one for somebody you love … I spent hours. It was like a full-time job, looking for Pfizer.”

Beginning Tuesday, everyone 16 and older in Minnesota will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, though not everyone will be able to get their shot right away since demand still outpaces supply.

For teens like Madelynn Mikkalson, there will be only one option: Pfizer, approved for anyone 16 and older. Moderna and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are approved for 18 and up, according to the FDA, which makes the options more limited even as more doses become available.

“We’re going to have to be very careful about making sure the right people indicated to get the vaccine are getting the right vaccine,” said Abe Jacob, chief quality officer at M Health Fairview, during the governor’s announcement about expansion on Friday. “It’s a vaccine safety issue.”

WCCO on Saturday asked the Minnesota Department of Health if there are any plans in the future to hold a certain amount of Pfizer vaccines for 16- and 17-year-olds in the quest to get as many people vaccinated as possible. The department in an email didn’t directly respond, but noted there are Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials underway testing children as young as 12.

But approval could be many months away. Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and AstraZeneca also plan to test in children but are further behind, according to The New York Times. (Novavax and AstraZeneca are not approved for use in the United States.)

Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health, said that 16- to 18-year-olds that have underlying health conditions should try to get the vaccine through their regular provider.

“I don’t think people realize how many 16 year olds are compromised,” said Mikkalson. “If you have an option, grab a Moderna if you can, or grab a Johnson & Johnson and leave that Pfizer one open for 16- and 17-year-olds because there’s a mom out there struggling to get their kid back out in society again.”

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