Mass state COVID-19 vaccination sites will be reduced in Minnesota this week as more vaccine is steered to local medical providers who can reach out to more of their patients.
Gov. Tim Walz on Monday said 35,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be earmarked for senior citizens in Minnesota this week — the highest total so far — at more than 100 locations. That will include two permanent mass vaccination sites in Minneapolis and Duluth rather than the nine pilot sites spread across the state in each of the last two weeks.
The governor's announcement called the strategy an "all-of-the-above approach" that gives vulnerable senior citizens access to vaccine through their local doctors but maintains some broader community events as well.
"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," Walz said in the 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."
Vaccine supply remains limited, even with an expected 16% increase in federally controlled shipments to Minnesota this week. However, access to seniors is gradually increasing as medical providers complete vaccinations of the initial priority groups of roughly 500,000 health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Broad vaccine access for all Minnesotans remains months away.
The new strategy will include an online locator map to help people find local providers administering the vaccine.
Selection of new vaccine recipients for the sites in Duluth and Minneapolis will use the existing waiting list of more than 200,000 people that the state collected last week. The state is earmarking roughly the same number of doses for these events, just concentrating them at two sites rather than nine.
People who received their first doses at the nine community sites will still use them for their scheduled second doses later in February. Teachers vaccinated at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul over the last five days will use that site for second doses as well.
The nine pilot sites and the Xcel event for teachers provided more than 27,200 Minnesotans with first doses of the vaccine over the last week.
The new Minneapolis site will provide vaccine for additional teachers and child-care workers, who also will have access through 35 county public health events and pharmacies in Brainerd, St. Cloud, and Rochester.
While the nine state sites helped move more doses out of freezers and into arms, health officials said the plan from the start has been for most people to be vaccinated at their doctors' offices, hospitals and pharmacies.
"The pilot sites were just that," state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said last week in legislative testimony. "That is not the main way that seniors are going to get vaccinated."
Minnesota's major medical providers had already been offering more vaccine to elderly patients over the past week as they gradually completed vaccination of health care workers. Their approaches differ somewhat, though. Duluth-based Essentia Health has been contacting select patients 65 and older, while Mayo Clinic is starting with its patients who are 80 and older.
Risk increases with age when it comes to COVID-19. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 13 more COVID-19 deaths on Sunday and 996 more known infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease. That brings state totals to 6,200 deaths and 461,807 infections.
Among the 45,897 infections involving Minnesotans in their 60s, 1.5% have been fatal. Among the 13,740 infections involving Minnesotans in their 80s, 16% have been fatal.
Minnesota had lagged in national comparisons of COVID-19 vaccine efficiency, partly because medical providers were assigning doses to appointments that were scheduled days away.
The state mass vaccination sites appear to have boosted Minnesota's performance.
Minnesota now ranks 21st among U.S. states in total COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It had ranked as low as 45th last week.
Walz said last week that he was thankful that the Biden administration offered a three-week projection of weekly vaccine shipments to Minnesota.
That, among other things, gives providers confidence to immediately use more of their supplies with the knowledge that the next shipments will cover upcoming appointments.
The state on Sunday reported that 418,299 people in Minnesota received at least the first of two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Among them, 111,715 people received both doses of the vaccines, which are considered 95% protective when administered on schedule.
The second doses are administered three to four weeks after the initial shots.
The totals include vaccinations of staff and residents of long-term care facilities, which have been provided under federal contract by chain pharmacies CVS, Thrifty White and Walgreens. Residents of these facilities have suffered 64% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths, including seven of the deaths reported Sunday.
The state has yet to announce vaccination plans for the next priority groups other than senior citizens. Initial federal guidance called for the next wave of vaccinations to include teachers but also other essential front-line workers such as power-plant operators and police officers.
Staff writers Glenn Howatt and Joe Carlson contributed to this report.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744