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Minnesota's COVID-19 vaccine providers defend performance

Jeremy Olson, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Nearly 60% of Minnesota's supply is Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept in special freezers at -70 degrees Celsius and used within six hours once thawed and formulated. That slows distribution of doses to rural sites until providers are ready for them.

South Dakota nonetheless chose a distribution strategy that has proved efficient — assigning counties to the five major health systems in the state and making them responsible for vaccine distribution.

Minnesota's system is similar, but with the extra administrative layer of eight regional health care coalitions that decide each week on the local distribution. Most doses of Pfizer vaccine have gone to hospitals and clinics in those regions while Moderna vaccine has been used at long-term care facilities and by local public health agencies on paramedics and first-responders.

One advantage is that regional providers meet regularly and help one another, Morris said. CentraCare has offered to help public health agencies short on vaccine to give shots to people remaining on their priority lists. It also can go back and give shots to people at nursing homes who initially refused them.

"We're less worried about, 'this is mine, that's yours.' The vaccine doses we have in our region, we just want them in people's arms so we can protect our population," he said.

 

Minnesota officials said the pace of vaccination was slowed at first by a federal program in which chain pharmacies such as CVS, Thrifty White and Walgreens provide shots to residents in long-term care. Minnesota diverted more than 100,000 doses to that program, while West Virginia opted out and used local pharmacies to administer first doses to that population. That state has ranked among the best for its vaccination rate.

Vaccination of this population appears to be quickening in Minnesota, though. CVS launched its own state-by-state tracker and on Friday reported that it had provided 14,390 first-dose vaccinations in 118 of 120 assigned nursing homes. It has moved on to 478 assigned assisted-living facilities, completing 80 clinics and vaccinating 3,881 residents.

"Shots in arms are increasing daily," said CVS spokesman Charlie Rice-Minoso, "at an impressive rate."

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