Vaccine distribution expanding to those with high-risk underlying conditions in April; general public estimated in summer

“Every shot that’s administered is one day closer."

One the one-year anniversary of Minnesota’s first COVID-19 patient, infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths are down significantly. Fifty-six days after the vaccine was first introduced, officials announce when residents,depending on their specific job title, age or medical condition can expect to get a dose with an eye on regaining some warm weather activities.

Many of us daydream daily about sitting in the sun at Target Field or walking the state fairgrounds with something fried and on a stick in our hands. Gov. Tim Walz Thursday said there are no guarantees, but we’re getting closer to that going from memory to reality.

“Every shot that’s administered is one day closer,” Walz said. “The next few months, things are going to start to return, hopefully better for so many of us. I, for one, read an article about the spectacular summer that’s coming. It is nearly here, Minnesota. Do the things that you can do. Pay attention to when it’s your time to go. Help get folks on there. We’re going to need a little bit of patience here, but the good news is, after the next several weeks, we should start to see even more of an acceleration to get closer to that.”

1.2 million doses have been administered in Minnesota so far with the goal of getting more than 3 million adults their full doses.

Based on the allotment the state has come to expect from the federal government, it will be summer when the general population can have access to the vaccine. At the current moment, demand far exceeds supply. K-12 teachers, childcare providers, those 65 and older, healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff are eligible.

But Thursday Minnesota officials said that once 70% of those 65 plus receive their doses (currently at 43%), which is projected at the end of March, the expansion will take off.

Food processing workers and those with these specific underlying conditions: sickle-cell disease and down syndrome, those who are in active cancer treatment, are oxygen-dependent or have chronic lung or heart conditions or are immunocompromised from an organ transplant, are first up.

“After seniors, the next phase is going to protect Minnesotans at higher risk of exposure and severity of illness,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “This path is based on evidence and on guidance from the federal government and from a deep partnership with our healthcare providers here in Minnesota.”

Then comes ages 45 to 64 with one underlying condition and 16 to 44 with two or more such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, heart conditions or those who are immunocompromised. They go along with frontline workers like first responders and food service and food retail workers in late spring. That’s followed by 16 and older with any one underlying condition and ages 50 to 64 regardless of health. By summer is the general public.

It’s a timeline that could also be sped up if the federal government allocates more doses, or once the single-dose, shelf-stable Johnson and Johnson vaccine comes online soon.

“Everything I see leads me to believe it is not going to be less, it is going to be more,” Walz said of vaccine supply, “which means the timeline moves to the left and accelerates.”

As far as verification of high-risk conditions, Malcolm said they have some “operational planning” to do, but people will likely schedule through their healthcare providers. She said some food processing plants have proposed on-site vaccination for workers.
There are still hurdles to get as many people vaccinated as possible. The locator map is hard to navigate for those not tech-friendly and it hasn’t been translated. Hesitancy will likely persist.

Walz said they’ll be following vaccination rates and the usual metrics to see how things reopen as more people get doses.

“We’re pretty stable. We’re watching these closely. The vaccine is having the effect. They should expect to see us overlay that, that these are the type of economic activities that come back on line.”