More than 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Minnesota, where the target goal is to vaccinate 80% of the population ages 16 and older.
State health officials believe an 80% vaccination rate would produce "herd immunity" that stifles spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Minnesota has reported 465,176 diagnosed infections and 6,251 COVID-19 deaths, including 1,410 infections and 17 deaths reported Thursday.
"Our goal with the vaccine is to know that we have controlled the virus, and we believe 80% vaccine coverage is what will ultimately get us there," said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director.
The two-dose Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines received emergency approval from federal authorities in December for Americans ages 16 and older. In Minnesota, that population is 4.48 million; 80% of that total is 3.58 million people.
In addition to administering at least 475,200 first doses, the state reported on Thursday that 128,694 people have completed the two-dose series, which showed in clinical trials to provide 95% protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The progress comes amid what Gov. Tim Walz has called a "golden opportunity" to vaccinate Minnesotans while the last pandemic wave has ebbed. The positivity rate of diagnostic COVID-19 testing has fallen to 4.3%, and that rate is considered perhaps the key measure of viral activity in Minnesota.
Minnesota providers next week will receive 83,825 more first doses of COVID-19 vaccine. The doses will be spread among a variety of provider groups, including state sites for the elderly, county vaccination events for health care workers and teachers, and health systems to offer to their older patients such as 105-year-old Carol Robertson.
The St. Paul centenarian was the oldest recipient of COVID-19 vaccine from HealthPartners on Thursday. Born before the Spanish flu pandemic and an adult during the 1968 flu pandemic, Robertson said she felt lucky to get access to the kind of vaccine that wasn't available to prevent deaths and disabilities during the polio epidemic in the 1950s.
"Anybody who isn't [seeking vaccine] is very mistaken, I think," she said. "We're so lucky to have it, and my family, everyone, was trying for weeks" to get an appointment.
The death rate of known COVID-19 cases in Minnesota is 0.4% among people in their 50s, but escalates and reaches 26% among people in their 90s. Among the 318 Minnesotans 100 and older who have suffered confirmed cases of COVID-19, 100 have died. That's a fatality rate of 31%.
State emergency orders remain in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 through mask-wearing in indoor public places; capacity restrictions for bars, restaurants, fitness clubs and other venues; and limits on gathering sizes that will affect Super Bowl viewing parties this weekend.
"This is probably not the year to have a Super Bowl party," Ehresmann said, "and fortunately we don't have to feel bad because the Vikings are not in the Super Bowl. So, it takes some of the pressure off."
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said restrictions will remain in place despite the progress, partly because of concerns of new, more infectious strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
"We're going to hold tight for a while," she said.
Minnesota has now had the nation's two only known COVID-19 cases involving a variant first found in Brazil that is believed to be more infectious. Both people lived together and traveled to Brazil.
Sixteen cases in Minnesota have involved a similarly concerning variant found in the United Kingdom. Twelve involved people who traveled or their household contacts. Four were travelers to West Africa or the Dominican Republic.
Four cases involved domestic travel, and state health officials urged people to consider federal guidance before making any trips — including the need for negative COVID-19 tests before re-entering the country.
"Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19," Ehresmann said.
Flanagan spoke in front of a Hopkins Spanish immersion child-care facility on Wednesday to highlight the importance of vaccinating licensed child-care workers with limited initial doses.
Minnesota's vaccine rollout prioritized health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, but it has since been extended to all senior citizens as well as teachers and child-care workers. The strategy has deviated somewhat from the initial road map, which called for the second priority group to only be people 75 and older and a much broader group of front-line workers beyond educators.
Many of those essential workers couldn't do their jobs without child care, though, Flanagan said. "To be able to have a functioning economy, child care needs to be included" in initial vaccinations.
State health officials acknowledged that a change in federal guidance in mid-January toward vaccinating all senior citizens has slowed progress in the initial priority group of 500,000 health care workers and long-term care residents. First doses, nonetheless, have been provided in all skilled nursing homes and should be provided by the end of next week in all assisted-living facilities.
Ehresmann said there are about 80,000 health care workers and group home workers and residents left in the first priority group.
Health officials said they hope recent declines in infections in congregate care settings reflect that COVID-19 vaccine is starting to protect more people in these facilities. About 63% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths have involved residents of nursing homes or assisted-living facilities — including nine of the 17 deaths reported Thursday.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744