Walz: Minnesota on track to meet Biden COVID-19 vaccine goal

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Glenn Howatt, Star Tribune
·4 min read
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Minnesota will not only be able to meet President Joe Biden's goal that all adults become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in the next seven weeks, it should be able to beat it, Gov. Tim Walz said Friday.

"As you heard President Biden say last night, everybody needs to be in the line by May 1st," Walz said. "The good news is you'll be in line before that Minnesota."

But there's a difference between being eligible and getting a vaccine appointment, let alone the shot.

Minnesota's ability to meet the goal rests primarily on the one thing it can't control — the number of vaccine doses that the federal government provides to the state each week.

Minnesota health officials say that the state has the capacity to administer 400,000 doses a week across a "vaccine ecosystem" that includes clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and local and tribal public health agencies as well as some state-sponsored sites.

But the federal government would need to be supplying 24 million doses nationwide in order for Minnesota to snag its per capita share of doses to reach the capacity limit. It is expected to allocate 16.2 million doses next week.

Minnesota is expected to receive 127,510 doses in its state allocation next week. Pharmacies will get another 44,800 doses directly from the federal government.

Next week's shipments will not include any Johnson & Johnson vials.

"That is a disappointment," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "The sooner we can get the flexibility of that J & J vaccine, that will be a good thing."

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose to achieve complete immunity protection and helps states drive up the share of the population that is fully vaccinated. An estimated 11.9% of Minnesota adults have gotten all the shots that they need.

The federal government is opening up another pipeline of vaccines, adding 10 more Minnesota safety net clinics and public health agencies to a program that is designed to reach underserved and racial and ethnic minority groups.

Walz said increasing allocations to the state will speed up its schedule for when the general public will become eligible.

Weekly allocations to Minnesota could reach 300,000 doses by the end of March, up from the 127,000 expected next week.

"That means by the end of April we will have added about another 1.6 million people that will have been vaccinated," Walz said.

Under a timetable unveiled two weeks ago, about 1.1 million adult Minnesotans would not become eligible for the vaccine until after May 1, which would include younger adults with underlying health conditions, essential workers who typically do not have much public interaction and the remaining general public.

Walz said eligibility for those groups will come quicker than originally scheduled and would meet Biden's May 1 goal.

But he acknowledged that it could take longer for everyone to get the shot.

"I think here in Minnesota at the current allocations that the line will be done by June," he said.

As it stands, nearly 3.5 million Minnesotans fall into the groups that are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines, including health care workers, the elderly, child care and school workers, frontline essential workers and some people with underlying health conditions. As of Wednesday, 1,163,483 had received at least one dose — about one-third of all eligible state residents.

Getting an appointment for the shot, however, has been difficult for many.

Health systems tell their eligible patients they should wait until they get an invitation to set up a time to get the shot. The state's vaccine connector also involves waiting until it reaches out by text or e-mail.

Many pharmacies schedule appointments through their websites, but most are less likely to make slots available if they are unsure that they will have doses in their refrigerators or freezers.

Health care providers, though, say that they have the ability to get more shots into arms once they get more doses.

HealthPartners said it has the capacity to give 20,000 doses a week, including more than 600 patients a day at a drive-through clinic it recently opened in Bloomington.

"Our infrastructure in Minnesota is one of the strongest in the country," said HealthPartners chief executive Andrea Walsh. "We could offer more vaccine in a single day that our current allocation allows us to offer in a week."

Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192

Twitter: @GlennHowatt