Walz says details coming on first vaccines for Minnesota

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, December 2, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that his administration plans to release details next week on when Minnesota will start getting its first doses of coronavirus vaccines and who will be the first to get them.

Walz made the comments in a briefing for reporters following a conference call with several other governors, Vice President Mike Pence; Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-diseases expert; and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on the status of the country’s plans for distributing the vaccines.

The Democratic governor said he expects to hold “a very extensive briefing” for reporters and the public, possibly next Monday or Tuesday, on where Minnesota stands in the process. Details are still being worked out on the federal level about who gets priority — such as senior citizens and health care workers — and what the distribution plan will look like, he said.

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The governor has been critical of the Trump administration for its lack of coordinated federal plans for fighting the pandemic, which has put much of the onus on the states. But he had praise for the federal vaccine drive.

“I believe the work around the vaccine and the plans around distribution have been incredibly well done,” Walz said.

The discussion with the governors involved distributing the first doses coming from Pfizer and later Moderna. They will be distributed to states on a per-capita basis. The governors were told that Pfizer should get its emergency use authorization around Dec. 11, he said. Minnesota’s first distribution may be prepositioned before that, he added, with the state’s plans taking effect shortly after Pfizer gets that approval.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the states “will have a role in customizing the federal recommendations,” such as which subsets of health care workers and high-risk groups should get priority, but that the states have asked federal officials to provide “a framework as specific as possible in the interests of time.”

Walz seconded that, saying it would be a problem if neighboring states adopt different guidelines for distributing vaccines.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 5,801 new coronavirus cases and 15 new deaths, a daily toll that was low by the standards of recent weeks. Many hospitals are close to capacity. The Department of Corrections reported that the number of deaths in the state prison system rose to five over the weekend with the death of an inmate in the Rush City facility. Nearly 3,000 inmates in the system have tested positive since the pandemic began.

Walz and Malcolm cautioned against reading too much into short-term fluctuations given reporting delays over the holiday weekend. Malcolm said a few metrics appear to be improving, but deaths are likely to head back up again. The governor said the guidance against gatherings that put a lid on Thanksgiving celebrations will probably be similar for Christmas.

“When we look at the bigger picture, we really believe that we are still in a very serious point in the pandemic, and a very pivotal point for where things go from here,” the commissioner said.