Minnesota reaches 70% vaccination in seniors, to begin next phases ahead of schedule
Gov. Tim Walz announced Tuesday that Minnesota is expanding eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine after reaching its goal of inoculating at least 70% of people 65 and older.
The state will expand eligibility to the next two phases of Minnesotans at once, totaling about 1.8 million people, beginning Wednesday. Walz said the next two priority groups include people with underlying health conditions and those at a risk of workplace exposure, including about 45,000 people who work at food processing plants.
“We asked most Minnesotans to wait patiently while we protected Minnesotans at higher risk and got shots to at least 70% of our seniors. We will hit that milestone on Wednesday — well ahead of schedule,” Walz said in a statement. “More Minnesotans will now be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, beginning this week.”
They include Minnesotans with specific underlying health conditions such as sickle cell disease, Down syndrome, those in cancer treatment or immunocompromised from organ transplant and those who have oxygen-dependent chronic lung and heart conditions.
The state is also allowing providers "the flexibility to immunize folks with those more rare conditions" that aren't common enough to be listed but put them at the same risk of complications from COVID-19, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a Tuesday morning announcement.
"We are explicitly instructing providers to prioritize vaccine appointments for those Minnesotans with conditions that put them at the greatest risk," Malcolm said, as part of the state's goal to "immunize for impact."
Food processing plant workers and other targeted essential employees are also included in the phase beginning Wednesday. Those plants were the site of several high-profile outbreaks last year, due to the close-quarters nature of the plants and their essential role in the state's food supply.
"We don't just feed our state, we feed our country, we feed the world here," Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Peterson said during the announcement. "It's exciting to see that we're three weeks ahead to help provide the vaccine to the first of those food production workers."
Malcolm estimated this next phase of vaccination, which includes around 80,000 Minnesotans, could take about 10 days to vaccinate those with the listed health conditions and around two weeks for food processing workers.
The next phases also include Minnesotans age 45 years and older with one or more underlying medical conditions as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Minnesotans 16 years and older with two or more underlying medical conditions and Minnesotans age 50 years and older in multi-generational housing are also eligible.
"This one's going to take some weeks," Walz said during the announcement Tuesday. The second phase includes an estimated 1.1 million Minnesotans and also includes a more broad list of eligible frontline workers, including airport workers, judicial system workers, food service workers and the postal service.
If the supply of vaccine holds steady or continues to increase as expected, it's possible the state could have vaccines available for the general public as early as mid-April, Walz said.
Restrictions on businesses and gatherings in the state will remain for the forseeable future, Walz said, especially considering the spread of the more contagious B117 variant of the disease.
"I think we would have done this last week if it weren't for this variant," he said.
He said the state is considering a possible "regional approach" to relaxing restrictions, which could involve allowing more businesses to open in counties with lower spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
As of Monday, 1,655,056 doses of the vaccine had been administered statewide, which includes 592,134 Minnesotans who have received both doses. Nearly 1.9 million doses have been shipped to the state as of Tuesday.
St. Cloud Times journalist Erik Newland and Associated Press journalist Mohamed Ibra contributed to this report.