Walz expands vaccine eligibility before boost to supply

Published 7:29 pm Friday, March 26, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced a final expansion in vaccine eligibility to all Minnesotans 16 and older starting next week, though securing an appointment may prove difficult for much of the state.

The expansion, which will go into effect Tuesday, comes before an anticipated increase in the state’s weekly allotment that will amount to around 424,000 doses delivered to Minnesota in early April, according to Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. At least six states, including North Dakota, will have opened up vaccinations to all adults by Monday after President Joe Biden challenged states to make everyone eligible by May 1.

Walz acknowledged that demand will outpace supply before the increased shipments from the federal government arrive but urged the newly eligible Minnesotans to get in line. The governor set a goal for the state to be the first in the country to reach the milestone of 80 percent of its population fully vaccinated.

Email newsletter signup

“We want to keep the queue loaded so that we go for that goal we need to get to — 80% or above of our population vaccinated — to get that immunity that we need to truly turn back to all of the things we love so much,” Walz told reporters.

Malcolm said the state’s current vaccine infrastructure — which includes health care providers, pharmacies, and local public health agencies — has the capacity to administer 500,000 doses every week. State-sponsored vaccination sites, community pop-up sites and employers willing to do vaccinations at workplaces can further augment that weekly capacity.

Walz said the state is still asking providers to prioritize high-risk populations, including people 50 and older and people with underlying health conditions.

Abraham Jacob, M Health Fairview’s chief quality officer, said the expanded eligibility allows providers to immediately administer additional doses without explicit guidance from the state, citing an instance where a 65-year-old man was eligible but his 61-year-old wife was not.

“This is going to be tricky but the expansion gives us a lot more flexibility to focus on our highest-risk populations and yet start to fill in some of the gaps, if we have vaccine on the shelf, to be able to offer that to people who now qualify,” Jacob said.

As of Wednesday, more than 1.5 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose of vaccine, and more than 900,000 have been fully vaccinated. Minnesota has vaccinated 80% of its people 65 and older, and at least two in every three educators, school staff and child care workers.

The commissioner said the state has been working with retail pharmacies in rural areas to redistribute excess doses to areas that need more.

Walz said Pfizer is in the final stages of repackaging its vaccine in batches of 200 doses instead of 980 doses, which he said had been a “real drawback” in efforts to move excess doses to providers that need them. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultracold temperatures and administered quickly after it is thawed out.

Walz said the state will be launching several efforts to make distribution across Minnesota more equitable as eligibility expands, including a mobile vaccination unit program aimed at Black and Indigenous communities as well as possible home vaccinations.