Minnesota cuts vaccine sites, adds doses for seniors – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Mass state COVID-19 vaccination events will be scaled back in Minnesota this week in order to give more doses to medical providers who can reach out to more of their patients.

Exact details will be announced Monday, but Minnesota will be scaling back, at least temporarily, from the nine vaccine pilot sites it offered in each of the last two weeks. Two permanent community vaccination sites will open instead in Minneapolis and Duluth this week, and a third will open in southern Minnesota next week with more to follow.

The distribution plan this week will result in “significantly more vaccine specifically allocated for Minnesotans age 65+ than any previous week,” a state health official said in an e-mail Sunday. The new strategy will include an online locator map to help people find local providers administering the vaccine.

Selection of new vaccine recipients for the sites in Duluth and Minneapolis will use the existing waiting list the state collected last week. People who received their first doses at the nine community sites will still use them for their scheduled second doses later in February.

While the nine state sites helped move more doses out of freezers and into arms, health officials said the plan from the start has been for most people to be vaccinated at their doctors’ offices, hospitals and pharmacies.

“The pilot sites were just that,” state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said last week in legislative testimony. “That is not the main way that seniors are going to get vaccinated.”

Minnesota’s major medical providers had been focused on giving shots to the state’s first priority group of health care workers but have made enough progress that they are now reaching out to more elderly patients with offers of the vaccine. Their approaches differ somewhat, though. Duluth-based Essentia Health has been contacting select patients 65 and older, while Mayo Clinic is starting with its patients who are 80 and older.

Risk increases with age when it comes to COVID-19. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 13 more COVID-19 deaths on Sunday and 996 more known infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease. That brings state totals to 6,200 deaths and 461,807 infections.

Among the 45,897 infections involving Minnesotans in their 60s, 1.5% have been fatal. Among the 13,740 infections involving Minnesotans in their 80s, 16% have been fatal.

Minnesota had lagged in national comparisons of COVID-19 vaccine efficiency, partly because medical providers were assigning doses to appointments that were scheduled days away.

The state mass vaccination sites appear to have boosted Minnesota’s performance.

Minnesota now ranks 21st among U.S. states in total COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It had ranked as low as 45th last week.

Gov. Tim Walz said last week that he was thankful that the Biden administration offered a three-week projection of weekly vaccine shipments to Minnesota.

That, among other things, gives providers confidence to immediately use more of their supplies with the knowledge that the next shipments will cover upcoming appointments.

The state on Sunday reported that 418,299 people in Minnesota received at least the first of two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Among them, 111,715 people received both doses of the vaccines, which are considered 95% protective when administered on schedule.

The second doses are administered three to four weeks after the initial shots.

The totals include vaccinations of staff and residents of long-term care facilities, which have been provided under federal contract by chain pharmacies CVS, Thrifty White and Walgreens. Residents of these facilities have suffered 64% of Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths, including seven of the deaths reported Sunday.

The state pilot sites provided limited COVID-19 vaccine doses to seniors 65 and older and to educators.

A registration website crashed in the first week as appointments were offered to seniors on a first-come, first-served basis. A lottery was used to select senior citizens for appointments in week two.

The state sites in week two included Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for teachers in the metro area. An oversupply of Moderna doses was diverted from the long-term care vaccination program for this event.

As of Sunday night, the sites had collectively provided more than 27,200 Minnesotans with first doses of the vaccine.

Staff writers Glenn Howatt and Joe Carlson contributed to this report.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744