Minnesota unveiled an online app Wednesday for viewing personal immunization records in response to rising demand — largely because of more COVID-19 vaccination requirements by employers and organizations in response to the latest pandemic wave.
Requests by Minnesotans have tripled this year, prompting the development of the Docket app that will give people faster access to their immunization histories and their children's vaccinations.
"The Docket app gives Minnesotans a digital option to access their immunization history in [Minnesota Immunization Information Connection], check what vaccines you or your children may be due for, and see what vaccines you may need in the future," said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director, in a statement. "This is vital to making sure people are protected from preventable diseases."
State leaders said this is not a prelude toward a COVID-19 vaccine passport, a politically controversial subject, or government vaccination requirement. Gov. Tim Walz earlier this year rejected the idea, stating "I have no intention of doing passports. Our vaccine passport is get the shot. Get the shot and we get beyond this."
Health officials have encouraged more eligible Minnesotans 12 and older to seek vaccination against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The state has reported 7,956 COVID-19 deaths and 676,505 coronavirus infections, including 41 deaths and 2,736 infections reported Wednesday.
The single-day reporting of 41 COVID-19 deaths was one of the highest in months but reflected catch-up record-keeping and delayed verification of deaths in long-term care facilities. Only 12 of the newly reported COVID-19 deaths occurred in September; 19 of them occurred last year.
More than 3.5 million eligible Minnesotans have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine — or 73.8% of the eligible population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — but health officials said more immunizations are needed as the fast-spreading delta variant causes more infections.
Minnesota's positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing had leveled off at 6.6% for several days, but the reported rate on Wednesday increased to 7.1%. The state reported 718 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, and hospital leaders said the majority involve unvaccinated patients.
"It is raining COVID and we need to do what we can to decrease transmission," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist, urging people to wear masks indoors in high-transmission areas, and outdoors in crowds when social distancing can't be maintained.
Nearly 150 coronavirus infections per day were linked last week to people in youth programs, child-care facilities and K-12 schools, following a return to classes, but Lynfield said more than 600 were reported Monday and 500 were added on Tuesday.
While children are at substantially lower risk — with 87% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths involving seniors — health officials worry about their ability to spread the virus to vulnerable people.
People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and obesity are at elevated risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes, and the state on Wednesday reported that this population has increased slightly. The rate of adult obesity in Minnesota rose from 30.1% in 2019 to 30.7% in 2020.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the pandemic likely played a role by reducing mobility, increasing stress and limiting well-being visits to doctors' offices. "Obesity and other chronic health challenges have been a priority for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made progress more difficult," she said.
Even without a state mandate, many Minnesotans are being required to seek COVID-19 vaccinations by their employers. While some companies issued requirements on their own, others were compelled by an order by President Joe Biden last week for the Labor Department to issue mandatory vaccine rules to large businesses and health care providers.
Some businesses are requiring vaccination proof by customers as well. W.A. Frost and Co., a restaurant in St. Paul, was one of the first in the state to require proof from its indoor diners of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. While that upset some customers, indoor dining has tripled since the policy took effect Sept. 1, said Peter Drinan, executive chef of the restaurant, while patio dining levels have remained constant.
COVID-19 vaccine recipients receive business card-sized records of their shots, but the app has advantages, Drinan said. "The vaccine card presents a little bit of a problem. It's a little too big for the wallet, it's a little unwieldy."
First Avenue nightclub requires proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours, and the Guthrie Theater is adding the requirement.
The state received fewer than 15,000 requests for personal immunization records in 2019 and 2020, but that number has ballooned to more than 33,000 so far in 2021. Of those, 19,000 of the requests have come since July 1.
Malcolm said the request system is "swamped" and that the app — available at docket.care — offers a faster alternative. At least 1,500 people have downloaded the app, which is available in Android and Apple formats, since it was unveiled at noon Wednesday.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744