Minnesota health officials will allocate 40% of COVID-19 vaccine doses over the next four weeks to communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Many of these areas are home to Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other groups that have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

"We continue to see persistent disparities in vaccine coverage by race and ethnicity," said Dr. Nathan Chomilo, vaccine equity director for the Minnesota Department of Health. "We need to do better."

Using a formula developed by federal health officials to measure social and medical vulnerabilities, the doses will be targeted to the top 25% of ZIP codes that have the highest scores.

Chomilo said these areas account for 42% of all COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths.

Minnesota health officials Wednesday announced 22 more COVID-19 related deaths along with 1,514 newly confirmed cases.

A total of 572,025 Minnesotans have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease, which has led to 7,113 fatalities.

Of the deaths announced Wednesday, four were residents of long-term care facilities. Six people who died were below the age of 60, with one between 30 and 34 years old.

The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed, with the total number of doses administered weekly falling since the week of April 5, when a record 405,496 shots were given. The following two weeks saw consecutive decreases, with 334,802 vaccines going into arms the week of April 18.

Altogether, nearly 2.5 million Minnesotans have been at least partly vaccinated against COVID-19. That represents about 56% of those eligible to get the shot. About 87% of the elderly have gotten at least one dose.

Vaccine supply will begin to increase next week when the federal government will allocate 12,400 Johnson & Johnson doses to the state for the first time since federal officials lifted the pause on the vaccine last weekend.

State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said that 9,600 doses that had been held in storage can now be used by vaccinators.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients have been fluctuating daily, staying below the high of 699 from two weeks ago.

As of Tuesday, 643 people were hospitalized with complications of the coronavirus, up slightly from 641 on Monday.

Of those, 178 were in intensive care, down from 184 the previous day.

Fully vaccinated adults 65 and older who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines were 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 complications, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study also found that protection against severe COVID-19 was not as strong in those who had received just one of the two recommended doses, putting effectiveness against hospitalization at 64%.

The findings mirror recent hospitalization trends that show that the median age of patients has dropped as more elderly Americans have become fully vaccinated.

The vaccines offered little protection in the first two weeks after vaccination, the study noted.

"This also highlights the continued risk for severe illness shortly after vaccination, before a protective immune response has been achieved and reinforces the need for vaccinated adults to continue physical distancing and prevention behaviors," the report noted.

Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192