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Minnesota's COVID-19 vaccine providers defend performance

Jeremy Olson, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — Medical providers in Minnesota are burning through weekly COVID-19 vaccine shipments and seeking more, despite comparative statistics suggesting that the state has too many doses sitting unused.

While Minnesota's vaccine tracker shows that the state has administered only 40% of available vaccine, Sanford Health has provided first doses to 70% of health care workers in its northern Minnesota region and is ready to expand. Hennepin County Public Health has injected 1,670 of an initial supply of 3,000 doses, and the rest will be gone by week's end.

"We would love to get twice as much vaccine," said Susan Jarvis, president of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, "and we could get it in people's arms quickly."

Minnesota leaders have recently found themselves on the defensive, trying to explain why a state that helped write the national playbook on COVID-19 vaccination ranked average at best in its rate of doses administered. On Saturday, it ranked 29th among states while the Dakotas ranked among the best.

Minnesota's ranking, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website, could be temporary given rapid changes in the pandemic — with the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines being approved only last month. Minnesota was criticized this summer for having twice as many COVID-19 deaths as Wisconsin, but now both states report roughly 5,800.

Minnesota's total of 5,887 fatalities includes 37 reported by the state Department of Health on Saturday. The state also reported 1,529 newly diagnosed infections, bringing its total to 445,047.

 

State officials nonetheless feel pressure, especially given the Trump administration's plan to change allocations of doses and reward states with faster vaccination rates. While the incoming Biden administration might not employ that strategy, state leaders urged medical providers to add more vaccine appointments, including on weekends, and tap any reserve supplies.

"Initially the approach was: 'Be sure you save some!' We've thrown that out the window," said Dr. George Morris, who is leading the COVID-19 response for CentraCare.

Minnesota has stuck to recommendations by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, ACIP, to give scarce initial doses to health care workers at elevated risk of infection and to long-term care residents at greater risk of severe illness.

The state is administering about 13,000 doses on weekdays and remains on track to secure and offer vaccine to everyone in that priority group by the month's end.

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