Your questions about Minnesota’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, answered

By: - February 5, 2021 6:00 am

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

If you’re confused by Minnesota’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, you’re not alone. 

The plan has changed several times since Minnesota started administering vaccines in December, and more updates are on the horizon as the state nears completion of its first vaccine priority group.

Here’s the latest information about COVID-19 vaccines in Minnesota.

How many people have been vaccinated?

More than 475,000 Minnesotans — 8.6% of the population — had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Feb. 3, and 128,694 had received two doses.

About 37% of people who have been vaccinated are over 65, and 62% are between 18 and 64. Nearly 66% percent are women. Data on the race of vaccine recipients is not available. 

Who is eligible for vaccination?

As of Feb. 1:

  • Frontline health care workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. These people were included in the state’s first priority group, known as phase 1a in the vaccine distribution plan. Roughly 500,000 people belong to this group, and more than 420,000 of them had been vaccinated by early February.
  • People over 65. Seniors became eligible in mid-January, when the state expanded its vaccine program in response to a change in federal guidance. Nearly 1 million Minnesotans are 65 or older, and about 20% of them had received at least one vaccine dose by Feb. 3. 
  • Teachers and child care workers. Educators who teach preschool through 12th grade and child care workers also became eligible in mid-January, when the state expanded its vaccine program. Minnesota is one of 21 states that have prioritized vaccinating teachers. There are roughly 250,000 people in this group, and 25,000 had been vaccinated by Feb. 1.
  • Patients of community health clinics. Minnesota’s 17 federally designated health centers — which serve marginalized communities — have also received some shipments of vaccine, Sahan Journal reported. These doses are intended for existing patients of these clinics.

Some people who aren’t eligible yet have also been vaccinated, like teleworkers and construction workers, MPR reported. That’s because some major health systems, which receive large quantities of vaccine to distribute, have been “far more lenient in vaccinating people than was intended,” Minnesota Department of Health infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann told MPR.

Who decides who gets vaccinated in Minnesota?

Gov. Tim Walz makes final decisions about vaccine allocation and prioritization, with recommendations from the state’s Vaccine Allocation Advisory Group.

That group is made up of more than 20 people who represent health care providers, medical associations, tribal health associations, community health organizations, bioethicists, and several state agencies. They follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control to decide who is eligible for the vaccine and how to distribute doses across the state.

How does vaccine distribution work?

The federal government purchases vaccine doses from authorized manufacturers — at this point, Pfizer and Moderna — to send to states for their own vaccine distribution programs, and for federal programs like the long-term care facility vaccination program.

Minnesota health officials work with health care providers and local health officials to determine where doses should go and order them from the federal government each week. The federal government ships the doses to large health care facilities across Minnesota known as “hubs” and local public health facilities. The hubs administer some of the doses and redistribute others to 118 smaller clinics and hospitals.

Doses are also sent to community vaccination sites in Minneapolis and Duluth — and to a site that will open in southern Minnesota the week of Feb. 8 — for teachers and child care workers, as well as seniors who were selected through the state’s vaccination lottery.

Signup for the vaccination lottery is closed and another round has not been announced, although there will be more in the future. More than 226,000 people signed up during the 24-hour registration period in late January, MPR reported.

How much vaccine does Minnesota get?

Minnesota’s vaccine supply is increasing but still extremely limited compared to demand. The state received about 98,000 doses of vaccine the first week in February, which was a record high after receiving roughly 60,000-65,000 doses per week in January.

At the current rate, it will take four months to vaccinate all Minnesotans over 65 and other priority groups, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

President Joe Biden has pledged to give states three weeks notice of how much vaccine they’ll receive, which will help officials plan for distribution. Previously, states had one week’s notice. 

Biden set a goal of administering 100 million doses of vaccine — these could be first or second doses — in his first 100 days in office, which some experts have said isn’t ambitious enough. That could mean nearly 25% of the population would have at least one dose of vaccine by the end of April.

Where are Minnesotans getting vaccinated?

Seniors who got a vaccine appointment through the state lottery, teachers and child care workers will be vaccinated at community vaccination sites in Minneapolis, Duluth and a soon-to-be-opened southern Minnesota location. Teachers and child care workers who live far from those sites will be vaccinated at local pharmacies or public health facilities.

Other eligible candidates — like health care workers and people over 65 who did not get an appointment through the lottery — will be vaccinated at hospitals, clinics and other health facilities. People over 65 can contact their usual health provider to ask if they have appointments available, or use the state’s Find My Vaccine website to find a local vaccine provider. 

The state cut back on the pilot vaccination sites that were launched in mid-January to free up more doses for hospitals and clinics, but seniors who got their first dose of vaccine at one of those sites will return there for their second shots.  

How can I sign up to get vaccinated?

Health care workers, staff of long-term care facilities, teachers and child care workers will be contacted by their employers about scheduling an appointment.

People over 65 can find a local vaccine provider using the state’s Find My Vaccine website and contact the provider directly about availability and appointments. 

How does our program compare to other states?

Nearly 9% of Minnesotans had received at least one dose of vaccine by early February. This put Minnesota in the middle of the nation, in terms of the percentage of the population with at least one shot. Alaska had vaccinated roughly 13% of its residents, the highest percentage, and Idaho had the lowest vaccination rate of 6%, according to NPR

Minnesota had previously been criticized for its seemingly slow vaccine rollout compared to other states — in January, the percentage of Minnesota’s population with at least one shot ranked among the worst in the nation.

Minnesota’s vaccine distribution plan has stricter eligibility requirements — aimed at getting vaccines to people who need them most — than some states, which could explain the slower pace, MinnPost reported. We also have a lot of large health systems compared to other places, and managing vaccine inventory across so many facilities is challenging. 

Who will be vaccinated next?

The next phase will include frontline essential workers, but the state hasn’t released specifics about when they’ll begin vaccinating that group, what job descriptions will be included or who will get top priority. After that, other essential workers and people under 64 with high-risk medical conditions will be vaccinated.

We don’t know exactly when vaccines will be available to the general public yet, but it’ll probably be a while. Experts say that at the current rate, almost everyone who’s eligible for a vaccine will be able to get one by the fall.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.