ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesotans age 65 and up will have greater access to the COVID-19 vaccine after the Walz administration announced Monday that 35,000 doses will be made available for seniors at more than 100 additional sites.
The announcement increases the number of older adults who can receive the vaccine, while boosting the number of locations that will be providing vaccinations. One of the big concerns voiced by seniors regarding Minnesota's COVID-19 vaccine pilot program was with only nine community sites, some had to travel long distances to get vaccinated.
“We have long planned for most Minnesotans to get vaccinated in the places they are used to getting their health care – places like smaller clinics, local hospitals, and community pharmacies,” Governor Walz said in a released statement. “But not everyone has a doctor or pharmacy they’re familiar with. That’s why we’ve built up a reliable network of different ways Minnesotans will be able to access the vaccine. After careful planning, we’re now activating that network to give Minnesotans options close to home.”
The vaccination sites that will receive vaccine from the state supply include clinics, hospitals, and other locations. The state will also continue to operate its existing community vaccination sites, whose doses will be made available by random draw.
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm warned Monday on a briefing call with media that the new influx of vaccine doses will still not amount to that much at each site.
"We've said from the very beginning that most Minnesotans will end up getting vaccinated at the places we're accustomed to getting our medical care," Malcolm said, like clinics and pharmacies.
MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said when adults 65 and older were added to the eligible groups, along with educators and child care workers, a total of 1.1 million people were added to the list.
"We simply do not have enough vaccine for everyone who wants one at this time," Ehresmann said.
However, Ehresmann said, Minnesota is seeing an uptick of 16% in its federal vaccine allotment this week. That's just under 11,000 additional doses. In total, about 98,000 doses will be distributed across the state this week - the largest number yet. About 50% will continue to go to Phase 1a recipients like group homes and health care workers. About 35% is going to providers to vaccinate people ages 65 and older. Eleven percent are going to child care and education settings. And some doses are still going to community vaccination sites.
"Please remember that doses are still limited with this good news," Ehresmann said. "But we know that vaccine will continue to come and there will be more and more options for people to be vaccinated. So we ask you for your patience and we ask you to recognize that we have a large task in vaccinating 1.1 million people in these groups and very little vaccine to do that."
Minnesota has also established two large-scale, permanent community vaccination sites in Minneapolis and Duluth. A third location in southern Minnesota will open next week, and additional locations may be set up in the near future.
At this time, these sites will all serve Minnesotans 65+, and the Minneapolis location will also serve E-12 educators and staff, and child care professionals.
Malcolm said the state decided to continue using community vaccination sites after a successful two-week pilot. Malcolm said MDH will continue to evaluate where additional community sites might help to increase vaccine distribution.
Anyone who already got a first dose at a community vaccination site will receive their second dose at that same site. No new pre-registrations will open up this week, but anyone who signed up to get on the waiting list last week may be randomly selected to get a vaccine at the Minneapolis or Duluth community sites this week. MDH officials said that selection will occur Tuesday, and people will be notified if they've been selected late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
No new, first-dose appointments are currently being scheduled at the 10 original community vaccine pilot sites.
MDH said Monday that "there will be future opportunities" to register to be randomly selected.
To help seniors find a provider close to them, state health officials have launched a new vaccine site locator. While the locator currently provides information for those 65 and older, it will expand over time as more Minnesotans become eligible for the vaccine.
Malcolm said the goal is to increasingly move the vaccine out to communities "to meet seniors where they are."
According to Malcolm, most providers will be reaching out to their patients ages 65 or older when they have doses available. For most people, she said, it may make sense to wait and get the vaccine directly from their provider.