‘It’s not over’: Minnesota health officials push vaccinations as Delta variant spreads

By: - July 26, 2021 7:27 pm

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Minnesota health officials on Monday urged people who aren’t yet vaccinated against COVID-19 to get the shot as case counts and hospitalizations rise amid the state’s fourth wave of the pandemic.

The state reported 424 new COVID-19 cases Monday, up from fewer than 100 per day in mid-June. More than 150 people were hospitalized with the virus on Friday — an increase of 50% compared to late last month.

The uptick is driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is causing more than 75% of the state’s cases, said Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Department of Health commissioner. Still, the current wave is milder than previous ones thanks to vaccines: More than 65% of Minnesotans over 16 are fully vaccinated.

“The problem here is unvaccinated people getting exposed to an extremely contagious strain of the virus,” Malcolm said.

Malcolm said Minnesota officials are awaiting guidance from the federal government on vaccine booster shots for older adults and immunocompromised people, and are prepared to distribute and administer the immunizations when the time comes.

Malcolm also said the state is awaiting federal approval to give vaccinations to children under 12. They expect more guidance will be released by the end of the year, she said.

For those who can get the shot, remaining unvaccinated is not only risky for their individual well-being but also for the general public, Malcolm said.

“Each time a person gets COVID, the virus has a new opportunity to evolve,” she said. “As we see with Delta, sometimes the virus does mutate in ways that could evade the effectiveness of the vaccines we have and the treatments we have.”

Widespread circulation of the Delta variant has prompted countries and cities across the world to issue new restrictions and lockdown orders. In the United States, the variant is fueling outbreaks in states with low vaccination rates, including Mississippi, Missouri and Arkansas. 

“The Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, in a recent White House briefing. “It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.”

Malcolm said vaccinated people who are concerned about the Delta variant can take some comfort in data showing the immunizations are effective against it. Roughly 3,880 fully vaccinated Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19 — fewer than 0.1% of people with the completed vaccine series. The vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated, she said.

Still, several fully vaccinated Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to Provincetown in July, the site of an outbreak that has sickened more than 400 people, said Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota Department of Health infectious disease director. None of the Minnesotans have been hospitalized.

Anyone who traveled to the area in July should be tested, she said.

As the Delta variant continues to circulate, continuing to wear masks and avoiding large gatherings are “perfectly reasonable” steps for vaccinated people to take, especially those who are immunocompromised, Malcolm said.

“We’re in better shape to fight the pandemic, but it’s not over,” Malcolm said. “Our actions are going to determine what the next phase of the pandemic looks like and how disruptive it will or won’t be.”

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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.