A shipping delay of the new Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Minnesota could affect some health care providers, but the state's nursing home residents are still on track to get their first shots starting Monday.
Most of the 94,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine have arrived, but shipments to three local public health agencies and one nursing home could come late.
"We were just made aware that they were behind on getting the Moderna vaccine shipped out," state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said during a Wednesday media briefing.
Some states have reported receiving vials of the vaccine made by Moderna, which last weekend became the second vaccine authorized for COVID-19.
Minnesota health officials had earmarked most of the first shipment for vaccination of residents and workers at the state's 360 nursing homes.
The plan is to vaccinate everyone who lives or works at a long-term care facility, including assisted living, by the end of January, dependent on vaccine supply.
But nursing homes, which care for the most medically vulnerable, have been hit the hardest, with 18,000 resident and staff cases and 2,100 resident deaths.
Because of that toll, they have been assigned the highest priority for receiving the vaccine, along with front-line health care workers.
"We are still a long, long way from being able to return to normal in our settings, but it is truly a hopeful moment in the midst of this devastating pandemic," said Gayle Kvenvold, chief executive at LeadingAge Minnesota, a senior living industry trade group.
"We are thrilled to be at this point in our battle against COVID-19," she said.
The Pfizer vaccine, which first arrived last week, has been allocated to 244 health care providers, according to data released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Of the 79,950 Pfizer doses that have arrived or are on the way, the shots are slated for 135 hospitals, 52 pharmacies and 57 local public health agencies. All of the doses have been given to hospital workers.
Nearly 3,000 health care workers have been vaccinated so far, although that number is likely higher due to reporting delays. Many facilities didn't get the vaccine until Friday.
The first recipients live all over the state, with St. Louis County leading the pack in greater Minnesota with 588 shots given, followed by Olmsted County, home to the Mayo Clinic, with 362 people getting vaccinated. Becker County was third with 224.
In the seven-county metro area, 392 health care workers were vaccinated. All will require a second shot in about three weeks. Those doses will be shipped to the state in future deliveries.
The vaccinations come as reports of new fatalities due to COVID-19 complications took another jump on Wednesday with the announcement of 75 deaths, bringing the pandemic total to 4,971.
"Sadly it is pretty likely that we will cross that very sad threshold of 5,000 total deaths, likely tomorrow," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday.
There were 1,513 new COVID-19 infections, one of the lowest one-day totals in two months.
"The measures we put in place to limit the spread of disease and to bring the trajectory of the disease down have had some effects," Malcolm said.
Case growth now stands at around 52 new cases per 100,000 residents, which is less than half the rate's peak in early November.
Still, public health officials consider case growth rates above 10 to be high risk.
"It is still just a very, very high level of viral activity, if you will, around the state and we don't want to take our eye off of that," Malcolm said.
In the state's long-term care facilities, the number of new cases has fallen by 16% over the past two weeks after more than two months of explosive growth.
But the number of resident deaths continues to climb, increasing 21% since Dec. 9.
Altogether, 3,220 long-term care residents have died, with 43% of those fatalities happening since late October.
Under a federal program, CVS Health will be giving COVID-19 shots to 63,238 people at 599 state nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, the company said.
Several nursing homes were told to expect these "vaccine clinics" to start Monday, Kvenvold said, while others have received dates for early to mid-January.
It is unclear if any vaccinations will be postponed as a result of Wednesday's storm.
"Those who have received Monday dates have also stressed that they understand that things could change between now and then given the logistics involved," Kvenvold said.
Altogether there are 22,000 nursing home residents, 56,000 assisted-living residents and a full-time and part-time long-term care workforce of 80,000.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen since early December, with 1,073 patients receiving care for complications from the coronavirus. Of those, 238 are in intensive care units. About 90% of the state's 1,212 ICU beds are occupied.
While most people experience mild or even no symptoms from COVID-19 infection, people with underlying health conditions are more likely to require hospital-level care. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity and kidney disease are among the known complicating factors.
The state Department of Health received 23,563 test results, down from the 32,195 reported a day earlier.
An estimated 379,512 of the 402,519 confirmed cases are considered to no longer be contagious and don't require isolation.