REGIONAL- Coronavirus vaccinations are underway across Minnesota, and more vaccines are on the way, but Gov. Tim Walz and health officials said during a Dec. 22 press call that it will be weeks …
REGIONAL- Coronavirus vaccinations are underway across Minnesota, and more vaccines are on the way, but Gov. Tim Walz and health officials said during a Dec. 22 press call that it will be weeks before the first round for critical healthcare workers and long-term care facilities is complete, and months before vaccinations are widely available to the public.
“The days ahead are brighter,” Walz said. “The vaccines are here, they’re being distributed as quickly, as efficiently as we can. A lot of thoughtful planning went into this, but with an understanding that this is going to take time. Demand outstrips supply at this point in time, but, we’ll get there.”
The first limited shipment of 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was distributed to regional centers with the capability of storing it at the ultra-cold temperatures required. Critical healthcare workers were to receive the first shots, but within a few days healthcare providers from the Mayo Clinic to community health clinics were bemoaning the lack of enough vaccine to treat all of their staff.
Walz said that the projected number of doses the state was to receive had dropped due to miscommunication between Pfizer and the federal government that left millions of doses unshipped, but that efforts were back on track after the issue was resolved.
“They have the vaccines, they’re ready to go, they’re in our system, and the public will be able to continue to track this almost in real time,” Walz said. “But I think the good news is that it looks like this week that it’s fairly significantly up.”
The state was to receive 94,800 doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine on Dec. 23. Since the Moderna vaccine doesn’t have to be super-cooled, it can be distributed broadly and will be used to vaccinate residents and staff in long-term care facilities, with nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities coming first, followed by assisted living centers and other congregate care facilities.
“We wish that the vaccine rollout would be a faster process,” state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “It’s enormously complex, as you’ve heard, and the supply is going to take a while to build.”
Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said that pharmacists have been recruited to help speed the vaccination process in long-term care facilities.
Still, Ehresmann said it would likely take until the end of January to administer the first doses of vaccine to everyone in highest priority group, but that most will have received both required doses by that time.
The rollout of the vaccine comes at a time when the latest trends in COVID-19 are encouraging.
“Case growth does continue to trend downward, while the weekly testing volumes are pretty stable,” Malcolm said. “The seven-day average testing positivity rate as of Dec.13 is 8.4 percent, almost a two-percentage-point drop from a week ago, which is below the high-risk threshold and has been for five days now.”
However, all three sounded similar notes of caution about the potential for those trends to head higher if Minnesotans don’t continue to follow the recommended guidelines and restrictions.
“We know how much fatigue there is, we know how difficult it is to forego some of our very favorite things and traditions at this time of year, especially after such a very, very difficult year,” Malcolm said. “But it’s making a difference. When you wear masks and practice social distancing and pay attention to whom you’re gathering with, you’re doing what you can to protect yourself, your family and our whole community as we get closer to those brighter days that the government talked about.”
The reductions also weren’t enough data for Walz to announce any easing of the revised restrictions he implemented the week before, but if the trends continue ,changes could be forthcoming.
“We’re looking to make sure that a few days does constitute a pattern in the direction that we’re going and trying to tie it in concert with the reopening of schools and guidance around sports and of course in-person dining,” he said. “So, I think you can expect over the coming weeks or so we will start to do that.”
Walz also defended the restrictions he has imposed during the pandemic, suggesting that the rates and patterns in Minnesota have been influenced by its neighbors.
“In late September, early October, as Minnesota’s infection rates were 21st and we had as many economic activities going on as anyone else, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin were one, two, three, and four,” Walz said. “I think it was on Oct. 10. I said it’s coming to us, rest assured it’s coming to us. I still have to believe we have kept infection rates at a lower rate. Everybody has to make their own, I guess, peace with themselves about the decisions that they made. I certainly understand how difficult these were but they were informed by science data, and results.”
However, Walz announced the next day that beginning on Monday, Jan. 4, pools may reopen for lap swim and organized sports activities as long as facilities follow social distancing requirements specific to pools. Jan. 4 also is the day that youth sports can begin holding practices.