Minnesota has received an allocation of 396,350 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and administered 81,167 shots against an infectious disease that has caused at least 5,528 deaths in the state, according to an update Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health.
State health officials said they remain on track to vaccinate an initial priority group of health care workers and long-term care residents by month's end, and hopeful that this will accelerate Minnesota's progress amid the pandemic.
Minnesota on Wednesday reported another 67 COVID-19 deaths and 2,346 diagnosed infections, bringing the state's known infection count to 427,587. The latest data also showed a total of 140 patients with COVID-19 admitted to intensive care beds in Minnesota hospitals, a rapid decline from the 399 such patients on Dec. 1.
Gov. Tim Walz highlighted the state's progress against the latest pandemic wave on Wednesday in a news release regarding plans to relax restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses and organizations.
"The situation in Minnesota is undeniably better than it was last month," Walz said.
Health officials remain concerned that gatherings over the holidays could have increased viral transmission and disrupted progress in Minnesota. The seven-day positivity rate of diagnostic testing had dropped from 15.5% on Nov. 10 to 4.7% on Dec. 24, but has since increased to 6.5% as of Dec. 28.
COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna received emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month and have been distributed in limited initial quantities.
Minnesota has largely followed recommendations from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to prioritize those limited doses for health care workers, because they are at elevated risk for infection on the job, and for long-term care residents, because they are at elevated risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to their ages and underlying health conditions.
Other states have broken from the federal recommendations. Florida has prioritized senior citizens 65 and older for initial doses.
The disparity between the number of doses allocated and injections so far has raised concerns that Minnesota's COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been too slow, but state and federal health officials this week said that the pace should increase now that providers have been trained in the handling of somewhat complex vaccines.
State officials said the reported number of doses distributed to Minnesota covers those that have been ordered by local providers, but includes some that are still being shipped. Walz in his briefing said he is "right with" people who are impatient with the pace of vaccination, and that providers will be working to increase injections.
"We will continue to push that envelope but always do it as safely as possible," he said.
Many states were "measured" in their initial vaccinations because they wanted both providers and the public to gain comfort with the COVID-19 vaccines, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday morning.
"Now that the holiday [season] is over, I expect this program to continue to escalate, and actually escalate really quickly," she said.
Messonnier talked with the media on Wednesday to discuss an initial study of 21 people in the U.S. who suffered anaphylactic reactions to COVID-19 vaccine injections. Most occurred with the Pfizer vaccine, but the study was conducted when it was more broadly available than the Moderna vaccine.
All 21 recovered, but at least 19 needed epinephrine injections and some were hospitalized. Most reactions occurred within 15 minutes of injections. Messonnier said these reactions are rare and mostly occurred in people with histories of allergies to medicines or foods. The incidents have not changed federal guidance on vaccine administration, but health care providers that are providing injections must be prepared to deal with these reactions if they occur, she added.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come in two doses administered three to four weeks apart. People who suffer reactions to the first dose are discouraged from receiving the second.
Minnesota's vaccination total so far represents only first doses administered. Vaccinations are tallied separately at federal facilities in the state such as the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and Cass Lake Indian Health Services. They received the first vaccine shipments in the state in mid-December and started giving second doses this week.
State health officials are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the rollout of vaccine to the next priority group of people 75 and older and workers in critical industries. Broad public access to vaccine isn't expected until late winter or early spring this year.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744