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

A vaccine is drawn into a syringe.
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.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated 1 p.m.

As Minnesota approaches a key milestone in vaccinating the state’s 65-plus population, officials are accelerating the timelines for when many other Minnesotans can be eligible for a shot. On Tuesday, they indicated every adult Minnesotan may be shot-eligible by late 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. A few weeks the state estimated it would take until the summer to open vaccinations to all.

“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."

MPR News host Tom Crann interviews a Minnesotan who'll be vaccine-eligible Wednesday

The plan unveiled Tuesday rolls out two additional phases of the vaccination plan originally intended for April, first targeting people with specific underlying health conditions.

The second phase adds people based on where they work, including food processing plant workers, child care workers not previously eligible, first responders, grocery store staff, judicial system workers, factory workers, public health workers, public transit, United States Postal Service workers and people in correctional settings.

Also eligible: People over age 50 living in “multi-generational households,” where three or more generations reside, such as an elder, a parent and a grandchild. Officials tried to ease confusion on this Tuesday, saying a parent or guardian caring for a child of any age would not be considered a generational household.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm estimated it would take about six weeks to vaccinate everyone in the expanded groups; after that, the state 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 coronavirus hit meatpacking plants hard early in the pandemic. Many workers there are afraid to get tested for COVID-19, including some who are unauthorized immigrants, said Rodolfo Gutierrez, executive director of the Latino research group HACER.

"Meatpackers themselves are being infected without letting us know that they are because they are in fear,” he said Tuesday. “They are afraid of losing their jobs at any moment, if they use tell people that they are infected. They are not even coming to the testing sites because of the same very same reason."

Gutierrez said there's a perception that Latino people are more hesitant to get the vaccine, but that it's more a lack of information and access to health care.

No exact dates on curbs ending, venues opening

As the vaccination brightens and the weather warms, the pressure is on to completely reopen public gathering spaces and throw open the doors to big events. Walz, though, wasn’t ready to put dates to that.

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.

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.

He said he’s talking with affected industries and will release new guidance soon.

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said that process was moving too slowly and that more venues should resume now that case counts are declining and strain on hospitals is reduced.

“If we’re going to react to a spike, we also need to react when our numbers they’re plummeting,” he said. “And right now they’re plummeting.”

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