ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is making all adults eligible for a COVID-19 starting Tuesday but acknowledged that many will not find a shot right away.
Walz said he was confident making the move because vaccine supply from the federal government will significantly increase in early April. In addition, health providers constrained by Minnesota's current qualification rules were asking for an eligibility expansion.
State officials are urging providers to prioritize people with underlying conditions and frontline jobs first, then give remaining doses to anyone ages 16 and older.
"The stories of waiting in line and can’t get in, those are going to be gone in 4 weeks," Walz said at a Friday afternoon news conference.
Walz's decision makes 4.4 million Minnesotans eligible. As of Friday, 1.5 million people had gotten at least one dose of vaccine.
In a speech televised statewide, the governor said he wanted Minnesota to be the first state in the country to vaccinate 80 percent of its adults. Minnesota currently ranks 15th in the percentage of adults that have gotten at least one shot, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Walz answered questions from reporters for the first time in 11 days after quarantining when one of his staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week. The governor continued to test negative and said Friday that he would get vaccinated "soon."
The final eligibility expansion comes as the federal government has promised an increased supply of vaccines by April. Minnesota is in line to receive 424,000 first and second doses a week in early April, up from the 330,000 a week it has been receiving, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.
Dr. Abe Jacob, M Health Fairview's chief quality officer, said demand for appointments is strong at his health system. M Health Fairview is likely to concentrate on higher-risk patients for the next 4-6 weeks, he said.
"This is going to be tricky, but the expansion gives us more flexibility to focus on high-risk populations and yet start to fill in some of the gaps if we have vaccine on the shelf," Jacob said.
Minnesota has struggled for weeks with an apparent imbalance of doses between outstate and the Twin Cities metro. Chain pharmacies that receive doses directly from the federal government and are not governed by the state's tiered eligibility approach frequently have appointments in Greater Minnesota communities but none in the Metro area, according to VaccineSpotter.org, a website that tracks open appointments.
The state has asked chain pharmacies to redirect some doses, Malcolm said.
"We can suggest it. We don’t actually have the ability to tell them, 'Move this many doses there,'" she said, adding that pharmacies listen to the state's requests "to a significant degree."
Health officials say people should take the first shot that is offered to them, whether it is the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson. Minnesota's infection numbers and hospitalizations are climbing, and health officials are concerned about outbreaks of the fast-spreading B117 variant in several parts of the state.
How to get a vaccine appointment
All Minnesotans who have not received a vaccine should sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector to get updates on vaccine opportunities and be entered into the random selection process for the state’s Community Vaccination Program sites. Minnesotans can also contact their healthcare provider, local pharmacy or use the Vaccine Locator Map to search for vaccine providers in their area.