As vaccine eligibility widens, Walz warns Minnesotans are likely to meet waits for appointments

    Syringes are prepped with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before being administered at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

    Gov. Tim Walz on Friday cautioned that while vaccine eligibility will be open to all Minnesotans 16 and older starting on Tuesday, people are likely to encounter waits for appointments. 

    A day after the administration announced the development, Walz said in a statewide address that Minnesota is expecting a large surge in vaccination supply next week that will allow the state’s vaccination network to ramp up. 

    “Vaccines in arms is how we beat this (pandemic),” Walz said. “The infrastructure is there. The vaccines are coming.”

    Walz struck an optimistic tone as he outlined the latest development for the state’s pandemic response. A year ago, at the outset of the pandemic, a stone-faced Walz outlined dire projections that tens of thousands of Minnesotans could die if the state didn’t enact a stay-at-home order. 

    Those projections proved to be dramatically off, partly the result of stay-at-home orders and other measures implemented to slow the spread. To date, 6,821 Minnesotans have died compared with one projection of a death toll of nearly 75,000 people. 

    Walz last summer issued a statewide mask mandate and in late fall called for a second round of business closures after an uptick in COVID-19 infections that the governor feared could grow higher because of holiday gatherings. 

    Walz said Friday that if Minnesota continues its pace of vaccinations, it could be the first state to reach 80% of the population vaccinated. 

    “We’ve got a really bright summer ahead of us,” he said. 

    Walz and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, however, cautioned that while eligibility will widen on Tuesday, vaccinators will still prioritize higher-risk populations. 

    Malcolm reiterated that the three vaccines available — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are safe and effective, dramatically reducing the likelihood of a severe COVID-19 case. 

    M Health Fairview Chief Quality Officer Dr. Abe Jacob also addressed the state, saying that vaccine hesitancy has gone down among its patient populations as more and more people get vaccinated. 

    He highlighted the urgency of getting people vaccinated as variants of the COVID-19 virus — which can be both more contagious and more lethal — spread throughout the state. 

    “This is a race against the variants,” he said.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.