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Walz to open COVID-19 vaccinations to new groups

A few weeks ago, the governor said 70% of state residents aged 65 and older would need to have their first shot before moving on to other groups.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Governor Walz announced Tuesday that the state will expand vaccine eligibility to the next two phases of Minnesotans.

During a press conference Walz said more than 1.8 million people in the state will now become eligible to be vaccinated starting Wednesday, including those with specific underlying health conditions like down syndrome, people undergoing cancer treatments, food processing plant workers, and Minnesotans with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe illness.

Walz emphasized during the announcement that seniors who haven't yet been vaccinated are still the "top priority."

Among those eligible to receive vaccine beginning this week are: 

Phase 1b Tier 2 populations, including:

  • Minnesotans with specific underlying health conditions: Sickle cell disease, Down syndrome, those in cancer treatment or immunocompromised from organ transplant, oxygen-dependent chronic lung and heart conditions (COPD & CHF)
  • Targeted essential workers: Food processing plant workers
  • Minnesotans with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe illness

Phase 1b Tier 3 populations, including:

  • Minnesotans age 45 years and older with one or more underlying medical conditions identified by the CDC
  • Minnesotans age 16 years and older with two or more underlying medical conditions
  • Minnesotans age 50 years and older in multi-generational housing
  • Essential frontline workers: Agricultural, airport staff, additional child care workers not previously eligible, correctional settings, first responders, food production, food retail, food service, judicial system workers, manufacturing, public health workers, public transit, and U.S. Postal Service workers

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said while the tiers will both be eligible, the Tier 3 populations should wait on messages from Minnesota's Vaccine Connector or their providers. You can sign up for the Vaccine Connector here: vaccineconnector.mn.gov. She said while the line is moving more quickly, Minnesotans will still need to be patient. 

Previously, Walz had said that 70% of the state's population aged 65 and older would be a priority for vaccination, as nearly 90% of COVID deaths came from that vulnerable population. 

“We asked most Minnesotans to wait patiently while we protected Minnesotans at higher risk and got shots to at least 70% of our seniors. We will hit that milestone on Wednesday – well ahead of schedule. More Minnesotans will now be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, beginning this week,” said Governor Walz. “To reach 70% of seniors vaccinated is an incredible accomplishment in itself, but it’s not the end goal: we will continue moving full steam ahead until every Minnesotan who wants a shot gets one.”

In his Tuesday morning update, Walz emphasized that demand for vaccines will still surpass supply. He added that due to the size of the newly-eligible groups, this phase will take "some weeks" to get through.

Asked whether the expanded eligibility requirements could lead to a loosening of restrictions for the state's restaurants and other businesses, Walz said it's a "fair argument." He said the state is "on the verge" of making some changes, and might have done so already without Minnesota's current situation with COVID-19 variants. 

On Sunday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that nearly 64% of that age group had received at least one dose of vaccine. Statewide, more than one million people have been immunized with at least their first dose. 

State leaders credit the availability of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for accelerating the vaccination timeline, making more doses and options available to more people. This vaccine also has the benefit of maintaining effectiveness at warmer temperatures, meaning a regular refrigerator at a pharmacy can hold the precious vials.  

The introduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also allows the state to update the list of people included in the next vaccination group to include people with Type 1 diabetes, ALS or cystic fibrosis and others. 

The Minnesota Health Department (MDH) also says in the future people will be able to get their vaccines at their normal health care providers, instead of traveling to a vaccination site or pharmacy. 

Gov. Walz is emphasizing the importance of signing up for the state's Vaccine Locator, and encouraged patience as the state waits for enough vaccine doses to cover everyone who wants one. 

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The state of Minnesota has set up a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.

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