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Minneapolis VA administers first COVID-19 vaccine

It was given to Thera Witte, who has been a nurse at the VA for the past 10 years.

MINNEAPOLIS — On Tuesday morning, one of the first COVID-19 vaccinations in Minnesota was administered at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. 

Thera Witte, who has been a nurse at the Minneapolis VA for 10 years, was the first recipient at the VA. She said in a press briefing following the vaccination that she works in the ward that has been the facility's designated "COVID unit" since the pandemic began.

"I got cheers from my colleagues this morning on the way out the door," she said. "I think everyone is just feeling really hopeful that this is the beginning of the end, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Just one extra piece of the puzzle that can make things go back to the way they used to be."

Witte added that she felt no hesitancy in taking the vaccine.

"As a nurse, we base our practice on evidence," she said. "And I feel safe with the evidence that has been forward with this, and the effectiveness of the vaccine. It is a personal choice, but for me, it's not just preventing getting COVID myself. It's the safety of my family, our communities, and then my colleagues and the veterans we take care of." 

Credit: April Eilers, Minneapolis VA
Nurse Thera Witte become one of the first people in Minnesota to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Minneapolis VA, as Governor Tim Walz and VA officials observe.

The VA is one of five "channels" in Minnesota that will receive the vaccine separately from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The other four are the Indian Health Service, the Department of Defense, the Board of Prisons and the State Department.

On Monday afternoon, MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann told the press that those groups are administering the vaccine on their own schedule, but MDH plans to begin vaccinations of health care workers and long-term care residents across Minnesota next week, after ensuring all providers are properly trained. 

Governor Tim Walz said at the briefing on Tuesday that MDH is doing "exactly what the Minneapolis VA did," putting protocols, certification and training in place, so that vaccinations across the state can begin.

Walz also said that each Friday, Pfizer will inform the state how much vaccine will be shipped the following week, so that the doses are "in hand" by the next Tuesday. Over the next two weeks, the first dose will continue to be shipped out, with the federal government holding back the second dose until it is needed. 

"Minnesotans, I think you can rest assured that the professionals who are making this happen have doing this at the highest level," Walz said. "The safeguards are in place, and this vaccine is now not waiting to go-- the vaccines are being given in Minnesota."