More than 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Minnesota, where the target goal is to vaccinate 80% of the population age 16 and older.
State health officials believe an 80% vaccination rate in this population would produce “herd immunity” that stifles spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Minnesota has reported 465,176 diagnosed infections and 6,251 COVID-19 deaths, including 1,410 infections and 17 deaths reported Thursday.
“Our goal with the vaccine is to know that we have controlled the virus, and we believe 80% vaccine coverage is what will ultimately get us there,” the Minnesota Department of Health said in an e-mailed statement.
The two-dose Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines received emergency approval from federal authorities in December for Americans age 16 and older. In Minnesota, that population is roughly 4.48 million — and 80% of that total is 3.58 million people.
In addition to administering at least 475,200 first doses, the state reported that 128,694 people have completed the two-dose series, which showed in clinical trials to provide 95% protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The progress comes amid what Gov. Tim Walz has called a “golden opportunity” to vaccinate Minnesota while the last pandemic wave has ebbed. The positivity rate of diagnostic COVID-19 testing has fallen to 4.3%, and is considered perhaps the key measure of viral activity in Minnesota.
New county-based data for school reopening decisions also showed progress. Counties with case rates high enough to recommend all distanced learning for K-12 schools has dropped from 86 in early December to 12. Four counties have rates low enough for the first time since early December to recommend all in-person learning.
State emergency orders remain in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 through mask-wearing in indoor public places, capacity restrictions for bars, restaurants, fitness clubs and other venues, and limits on gathering sizes that will affect Super Bowl viewing parties this weekend.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said on Wednesday that it is too soon to scale back the restrictions.
“We’re going to hold tight for a while, especially with these additional variants that we are seeing,” said Flanagan, referring to more infectious strains of the virus, including one found in Brazil that has been detected in two Minnesotans.
Flanagan spoke in front of a Hopkins Spanish immersion child-care facility to highlight the importance of vaccinating licensed child-care workers with limited initial doses.
Minnesota’s vaccine rollout prioritized health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, but has since extended to all senior citizens as well as teachers and child-care workers. The strategy has deviated somewhat from the initial road map, which called for the second priority group to only be people 75 and older and a much broader group of front-line workers beyond educators.
Many of those essential workers couldn’t do their jobs without child care, though, Flanagan said. “To be able to have a functioning economy, child care needs to be included” in initial vaccinations.
State health officials acknowledged that a change in federal guidance in mid-January toward vaccinating all senior citizens has slowed progress in the initial 1a priority group of 500,000 health care workers and long-term care residents. First doses nonetheless have been provided in all skilled nursing homes and should be provided by the end of next week in all assisted-living facilities.
“We continue to receive far fewer doses in Minnesota than we need,” the Health Department said in a statement. “It will be several weeks before we are able to provide sufficient doses to finish these 1a groups, even with expanded allocations from the federal government.”
Health officials said they hope recent declines in infections in congregate care settings reflect that COVID-19 vaccine is starting to protect more people in these facilities. Roughly 63% of Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths have involved residents of nursing homes or assisted-living facilities — including nine of the 17 deaths reported Thursday.
Risk of severe COVID-19 increases with age. The death rate of known COVID-19 cases in Minnesota is .4% among people in their 50s, but the risk escalates from there and reaches 26% among people in their 90s.
Some health systems as a result have further limited their initial vaccine rollout. Mayo Clinic has limited vaccination to its patients 80 and older this week, but expects to expand to patients 75 and older next week while it continues to wrap up shots for health care workers.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744