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Minnesota expands vaccine eligibility; shots for all possible by late April

Mar 09, 2021 10:57AM ● By Editor
A Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is drawn into a syringe before sending it to be administered at a HealthPartners drive-up vaccination site in Bloomington, Minn., on Friday.
Photo: Evan Frost | MPR News

By Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio News - March 9, 2021

After nearing a key threshold in vaccinating the state’s 65-plus population, officials on Tuesday accelerated the timelines for when many other Minnesotans can be eligible for a shot — and indicated every adult Minnesotan may be shot-eligible by the end of April.

The state this week will hit its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of Minnesotans age 65 and older weeks ahead of schedule. That means a faster expansion of the eligibility pool.

“Things are going in a direction that we had hoped,” a buoyant Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday. “Minnesotans are doing everything that's being asked of them, and it’s making a difference."

The plan will roll two additional phases of the vaccination plan originally intended for April. 

In addition to Minnesotans 65 and older, the newly eligible include: People with specific underlying health conditions, including sickle cell disease, Down syndrome, or oxygen-dependent chronic lung or heart conditions, as well as those who are being treated for cancer and organ transplant recipients.

The state is also adding to its list of people eligible because of where they work. 

Newly eligible front-line workers will include food processing plant workers — hit hard by the outbreak last spring, as well as child care workers not previously eligible, first responders, grocery store staff, judicial system workers, factory workers, public health workers, public transit, Postal Service workers and people in correctional settings.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm estimated it would take about six weeks to vaccinate everyone in the expanded groups; after that, the state’s expects to be able to offer a vaccine shot to any Minnesota adult. 

“By the time we’re through with that next larger group, the next announcement would be for pretty much everyone else,” Malcolm said.

She and Walz still cautioned that Minnesotans needed to stay vigilant against the spread of the disease, noting concerning outbreaks in Carver County and other counties of the highly contagious U.K. COVID-19 strain.

The governor’s office said health officials do not anticipate any immediate changes to restrictions on events or social gatherings but that they are being reconsidered as vaccinations accelerate, and the state may be making more adjustments for summer events and the hospitality industry in the next week or so.

The Health Departments updated vaccine timeline
The Minnesota Department of Health's vaccine timeline. 
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Health

Walz on Tuesday acknowledged that the Minnesota Twins and other big event sponsors are anxious to know what will be allowed as spring and summer approach.