'A ray of hope': Vaccines should roll out soon in Minnesota long-term care facilities

A hand holds a syringe with vaccine inside.
A nurse holds a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at the St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

As Minnesota health care workers receive the initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, residents of long-term care facilities are next in line to start receiving those shots — perhaps by the end of the month.

The state's long-term care facilities have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Risk factors like age and preexisting conditions have put residents at high risk for severe cases of COVID-19. About 65 percent of the deaths from the virus in Minnesota — 3,070 out of 4,723 total — have been residents of long-term care facilities.

That's why residents and staff at the state’s long-term care facilities are going to be among the first Minnesotans to get a vaccine. 

Depending on how quickly the newly approved Moderna vaccine is distributed, it’s possible the first long-term care vaccinations will happen before the end of December.

“We still are anticipating that the first vaccines in our settings will likely occur for nursing homes the week of Dec. 28,” said Gayle Kvenvold, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota, which represents long-term care providers in the state. “I would hasten to add, though, that that's not final information. This is an hour-by-hour, evolving logistical plan and execution.”

Kvenvold said it will be up to each resident and worker to make an individual decision about getting a vaccine.

“Obviously, we are hoping that the vast majority of our residents and our workers do decide to receive the vaccine,” she said. “And the work of that is being sure that people have really good information about the vaccine, about its safety, about any possible side effects.”

She said the educational efforts are not just aimed at workers and residents, but families as well.

After a tragic and trying year for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Kvenvold said having vaccines on the way is a great relief.

“It's a ray of hope for our residents who have been separated for so many months from their families and loved ones. It's a ray of hope for our caregivers who have been so good, so dedicated, so committed, day in and day out for the leaders of our organizations,” she said. “We know that this isn't the end of our fight against COVID-19 at all. But we believe this is the start of the next chapter.”

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