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State starts to see vaccine equity success, announces new plan to expand distribution

The State of Minnesota is partnering with Minnesota health plans to improve COVID-19 vaccine equity and access.

On Thursday the Minnesota Department of Health parked its mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic in St. Paul to serve the Asian Pacific Islander community.

The state is still trying to distribute doses equitably, and the doctor in charge of that has shared new data that shows his unique ideas are helping. Dr. Nathan Chomilo is working to try and change a health care system he says created some of the disparities.

"That's what keeps me going and that's what gives me hope," said Dr. Chomilo. He leads the MDH vaccine equity team and announced a new partnership recently with several health plans to identify people facing the most barriers. The program will work to reach Minnesotans enrolled in Minnesota Health Care Programs (MHCPs), such as Medical Assistance (MA) and MinnesotaCare. 

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He says often times those people live in zip codes that are high on what's called the social vulnerability index (SVI), measured by four themes: socioeconomics, household composition and disability, minority status and language, and housing type and transportation.

"Using this equity metric, what we found is that 48% of Minnesotans that live in a high risk SVI zip code, they live outside the seven-county metro," said Dr. Chomilo. "So that’s a pretty close to equal split. Fifty-two percent live in the seven-county metro and 48% live outside the seven-county metro, so when we’re talking about equity, we're talking about the whole state."

To combat the equity problem, MDH is allocating 40% of its doses for four weeks to those vulnerable zip codes, along with bringing six buses that have been turned into mobile clinics there too.

And under that new partnership, health plans are directly texting patients, offering information and even transportation to get a shot.

With that, coupled with newly available walk-ins at vaccination sites, like the event center in Oakdale, Dr. Chomilo's data showed an increase in vaccinations - 500 he says at one site in just one day.  

"What we're really hopefully doing is setting ourselves up so the next public health crisis we're in a better state and the system is more equitable going forward," said Dr. Chomilo.

He says communities of color got off to a slow vaccination start because the state first focused on people over 70 years old, who, in Minnesota, are predominantly white. But we're nearing the state's target zone, with more than 60% of Minnesotans now vaccinated.

To see more analysis on health care coverage and what health plans are participating in the recent partnership, click here

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