Minnesota expects a 5% increase next week in shipments of vaccine against COVID-19, an infectious disease that has caused at least 6,319 deaths and has been found through diagnostic testing in 469,905 state residents.
The totals include 11 deaths — including of a child in the 5 to 9 age range from Chippewa County — and 677 infections newly reported Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health.
State death records indicate that the girl had a congenital neurological disorder and that its progression was hastened by COVID-19. Her death is the second in Minnesota involving someone younger than 10, and the 11th involving someone younger than 30.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said next week's increased supply of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines should be up 28% from what Minnesota received three weeks ago. She said it will help as Minnesota completes its initial priority of immunizing 500,000 health care workers and long-term care residents, and expands vaccine access to more than 1 million senior citizens and educators.
"What we really need is more like a doubling, tripling, quadrupling, " Malcolm said, noting that the latest increase is "only another few thousand doses a week which, when we spread it across the whole state, doesn't feel like a lot to individual communities, but is surely a step in the right direction."
Minnesota as of Wednesday had reported that more than 583,602 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered by providers in the state, and that 168,495 people had completed the two-dose series. That means nearly 4% of the target population of Minnesotans 16 and older have received both doses, which in clinical trials were 95% effective when administered on schedule.
The Walz administration has pressed for faster vaccine administration by challenging providers to give 90% of shots within three days of receiving them, and all shots within seven days. An update to the state vaccine website now lists the performance of more providers on those goals, including county public health agencies and smaller pharmacies and clinics.
The governor held a media briefing at the Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis on Tuesday, partly to recognize that vaccination of staff and residents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Minnesota should be complete by month's end.
Residents of such facilities make up 64% of the COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota, including seven of the deaths reported on Wednesday.
The state is using a patchwork of state, county and tribal vaccine sites as well as medical providers and pharmacies to expand vaccine access to seniors and teachers.
Three major chain pharmacies are offering 24,000 vaccinations for senior citizens in Minnesota in the next week — with Thrifty White already filling up most appointments and Walgreens offering them on its website Wednesday morning. Walmart on Wednesday afternoon announced that vaccinations will take place starting Friday in 40 of its stores across Minnesota, but the retailer had some technical issues with online registration.
The state approach has left some people frustrated — either because they aren't prioritized for vaccine yet or they can't get appointments.
People younger than 65 with health conditions that exacerbate COVID-19 have expressed concerns that they aren't yet prioritized, while Republican lawmakers on Wednesday criticized the Democrat Walz for not exclusively focusing the next wave of shots on seniors.
"The need is very clear," said state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, at a hearing of the Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee. "Everyone over 65 should be the top priority, especially since we're at the end of vaccinating our critical care health care providers."
Pat Siebert, 68, thought she was doing the right thing by not signing on to a waiting list for vaccine at state-run clinics, because she felt others had greater need even though a lung disorder increases her risk for severe COVID-19. Since that time, the state has restricted access to its sites only to those 220,000 people on its waiting list.
"If I would have known that, I sure would have registered," she said.
Siebert said other elderly people like her in south Minneapolis — including minorities at greater risk of severe COVID-19 — might not have signed up for appointments in the original state sites that were in suburbs and rural communities. But now the state has opened a site in downtown Minneapolis, and they can't get access.
Information can change quickly as well. Forest Lake Schools scheduled a remote-learning day on Friday based on information that it would receive enough vaccine to cover its entire staff, but later learned the supply from its county public health agency wouldn't be that broad.
Increased vaccination does appear to be helping, though, along with decreased spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The state's positivity rate of diagnostic testing has dropped to 4%, and is one of five key measures used to assess Minnesota's response to the pandemic. Walz on Tuesday noted progress in another key measure — the rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions — which for the first time since Sept. 25 has fallen below a high-risk level.
Walz used a series of emergency orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19, mandating the wearing of masks in indoor public places, restricting the sizes of social gatherings and limiting customer capacity in bars, restaurants, fitness centers and entertainment venues.
The governor on Tuesday said he is in discussions with state leaders about whether those restrictions can be dialed back with minimal risk of cases, hospitalizations and deaths rebounding. However, he wouldn't give a timetable or statistical measures that would drive any such changes.
"The question is how fast do you move," he said, "and that has always been a tough question."
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744