Minnesota will have a "robust supply" of COVID-19 vaccines for young children available in early November when federal officials are expected to give approval, state health officials said Wednesday.
"We've been working hard on planning for the administration of vaccines to 5- to 11-year-olds for some time," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "We are ready to go when the vaccines are approved."
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have yet to sign off on the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children, but the White House said Wednesday that it is implementing plans to distribute the shots and has acquired enough doses for the 28 million children, including about 509,000 in Minnesota, who would become newly eligible.
Regulatory approval is expected in the first week of November.
Some parents are eagerly waiting for approval as a way to protect their elementary school children. Shots have been available for middle and high schoolers, with 50% of those 12 to 15 fully vaccinated and 56% of 16- and 17-year-olds getting both shots in Minnesota.
The shots for children come in a lower dose and will be distributed to health care organizations, local public health agencies and other vaccinators. Pharmacies will receive vials from the federal government.
"We are looking at what other community site strategies, including school-based clinics, will augment that capacity," Malcolm said. "We know that a lot of schools and school districts have expressed interest in doing school-based clinics."
Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that the state will open seven COVID-19 community rapid testing sites by next week and that rapid testing will be available at four existing state sites that have been doing saliva tests.
"Minnesotans are working hard to navigate day care, school, and work — and they need the reassurance and ease of rapid testing to keep their lives on track," Walz said in a statement. "By helping Minnesotans get the speedy test results they need, we are taking action to make sure Minnesotans have access to rapid testing options at our free community testing network."
The rapid testing sites that will open this week are in Stillwater, Crookston and Hutchinson. Sites will open next week in Inver Grove Heights, Wadena, Hibbing and Albert Lea.
The Minnesota National Guard will staff the sites. The free tests are available to anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms.
"We've been steadily expanding testing capacity throughout Minnesota to meet the increasing demand that we've seen in recent weeks," Malcolm said.
Nearly 42,000 COVID-19 test results were reported to the state on Tuesday. On average, the state Department of Health receives about 37,500 test results daily, up from about 24,500 two months ago.
The testing positivity rate has ticked down to 8.3% from 8.4%. New COVID-19 per capita case rates also went down to 49.9 from a recent high of 52.9.
Another 1,858 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 32 deaths were reported Wednesday, bringing the pandemic totals to 765,761 infections and 8,489 fatalities.
All but two of the deaths reported Wednesday occurred in October, with two deaths of people in their 40s.
COVID-19 hospitalizations declined, with 935 receiving care Tuesday for coronavirus complications. That is down from 950 on Monday and 1,000 on Friday.
Still, hospitals remain busy with COVID-19 and other patients, with 96% of the state's 1,158 ICU beds occupied. There were 240 COVID-19 patients receiving intensive care on Tuesday. Among non-ICU beds, 94% were occupied.
"Capacity does remain tight, particularly for pediatric beds," Malcolm said. "There are several regions of the state with zero pediatric hospital beds available."
The Health Department released data Wednesday that show that unvaccinated people are 15 times more likely to be hospitalized and 30 times more likely to die because of COVID-19 infection compared with fully vaccinated people.
Minnesota has seen 45,827 breakthrough infections, which are defined as COVID-19 illness that occurs at least two weeks after someone receives the recommended number of vaccine doses.
Although that number has been increasing, it represents 1.4% of fully vaccinated Minnesotans.
"The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Minnesota are in those who are not fully vaccinated," Malcolm said. "This really just does show again the key point that the current wave of COVID infection is heavily concentrated among those who are not fully vaccinated."