At least 38,000 Minnesotans have received a COVID-19 vaccine since the shots first arrived two weeks ago.
Nearly 175,000 doses have been delivered in the state and are in the hands of hospitals, pharmacies and local public health agencies, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Another 76,000 doses are expected to arrive by Thursday, bringing the state's 2020 allocation to nearly 251,000.
That should be enough to vaccinate about half of the 500,000 health care workers and long-term care residents that are assigned to the first priority group.
"There isn't a lot of vaccine that is just sitting around," state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said recently. "There is a lot of vaccine moving around."
Like other states, Minnesota has no decision in how much vaccine it gets.
"Because doses are allocated by the federal government and are based on our population, we are not able to request more doses than what is being sent to us each week," said Doug Schultz, a state Health Department spokesman.
The shipping targets change frequently, but Minnesota is now on track to receive 67,150 more doses this year than the 183,400 it originally estimated three weeks ago.
State health officials have estimated that it could take until the end of January to finish vaccinating the high priority recipients, depending on future shipments.
Most of the shots have gone into the arms of hospital workers, but nursing home residents started receiving the vaccine on Monday. Emergency medical services workers are also getting shots this week, along with health workers who perform vaccinations and large-scale COVID-19 diagnostic testing.
Two similar vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are the only ones that have obtained emergency authorization from federal health regulators. But several other vaccines are being tested. If approved, they could broaden the supply of available doses.
The University of Minnesota will announce that it will be part of a clinical trial for a vaccine developed by Maryland-based Novavax and funded by the federal government as part of Operation Warp Speed. The U will be one of 115 sites in the United States and Mexico that will enroll 30,000 people.
This will be the first COVID-19 vaccine trial at the U, although the U has conducted nearly two dozen other coronavirus-related trials, mostly for experimental treatments.
Unlike the existing vaccines on the market, which use genetic material that eventually produces an immune response to the virus, the Novavax vaccine uses a stabilized form of the coronavirus spike protein to generate an immune response. It is not a vaccine that uses a weakened form of the virus, such as the flu vaccine, said Marc Jenkins, an immunologist and director of the U's Center for Immunology.
"It is one protein from that virus," said Jenkins, who is not affiliated with the trial. "It is not live at all."
Novavax Phase 3 trials launched Monday, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In Minnesota, vials of the Moderna vaccine are making their way to local public health agencies, which play a key role in vaccine distribution.
Hennepin County Public Health on Tuesday launched the first of its shot clinics for emergency medical responders, including paramedics, police and firefighters.
About 2,000 first responders are eligible to receive the vaccine as part of the highest priority group. So far, the county has received 1,700 Moderna doses and is expecting another 700 doses this week.
Carlton County in northeastern Minnesota on Tuesday launched the first of its drive-through vaccination clinics, which is also targeted to emergency medical services workers. In September, they tested the approach, which turned out to be faster and safer.
"We found we were able to vaccine two-and-a-half times as many people as in a standard indoor clinic," said Ali Mueller, the county's emergency preparedness coordinator. "It has always been in a conference room with people in lines."
The event will be held in the county's transportation garage that typically houses snowplows. Nurses and assistants will have the vaccine supplies on carts that will be wheeled down the line of vehicles. Each person who gets a shot will be asked to park in a rest-and-recovery area for 15 minutes. If any side effects develop, they can honk their horn or put on the vehicle flashers, summoning a nurse.
The county has received 100 Moderna doses to start, but has not been told about its next shipment, according to Jenny Barta, coordinator for immunizations and disease prevention and control. "Having a COVID vaccine is beyond my expectations and I feel like this is the miracle of 2020," she said.
The Health Department began reporting vaccine data last week. Due to lag times in reporting who got the shots, the number of people who have been vaccinated is most likely higher than the 38,000 disclosed Tuesday. Also, some Minnesotans received shots from federal agencies, including the Indian Health Service and the VA Health Care System, that may not be reported to state officials.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require a second dose. The federal government has set aside a supply for that purpose and those vials will be shipped to the state in a few weeks.
Minnesota added another 36 deaths to the COVID-19 pandemic death toll Tuesday, including 12 victims who were residents in long-term care facilities. Altogether, 5,196 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19 complications, including 3,351 who were residents in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.
State officials reported 988 new coronavirus cases on a relatively low test volume, with 7,742 samples processed. The last time Minnesota had a daily report of fewer than 7,000 tests was just after Labor Day.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases now stand at 411,110. Of those, health care workers accounted for 31,776 cases.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 complications have fallen since the beginning of the month, but they ticked up slightly on Monday. The state's hospitals were caring for 966 coronavirus patients, up 22 from the previous day. There were 214 patients in intensive care beds, and along with other patients, 86% of the 1,212 ICU beds in the state were occupied.
While most people experience mild or no symptoms after infection, those with underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and kidney disease are most likely to require hospitalization.
Since the pandemic began, 393,506 people testing positive for the virus are considered to be no longer infectious.
Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192