ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is making all adults ages 16 and older eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine starting Tuesday.
Walz will address Minnesotans live at 11:30 a.m. Friday. It will be streamed live on fox9.com/live.
"We worked hard to vaccinate Minnesotans sooner than we originally projected, and we have made tremendous progress getting vaccines to Minnesotans who need them most. Now, it’s time to get as many Minnesotans vaccinated as quickly as possible to end this pandemic," Teddy Tschann, the governor's spokesman, said in an email.
Walz is making 1 million people in the final four tiers -- younger adults with underlying conditions, all 50-64 year olds, essential workers and the general public -- eligible at the same time, adding them to the 3.4 million that already qualify. State officials are directing health providers to prioritize people with underlying conditions and frontline jobs before using remaining doses on others.
The move is a dramatic shift from the methodical, tiered strategy that Minnesota has used so far. As recently as last week, health officials said they did not expect to make everyone eligible so quickly.
Two things have changed, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters on a briefing Thursday afternoon.
First, the state's COVID-19 vaccine allocation is expected to increase in coming weeks. Minnesota is in line to receive 304,000 first doses per week starting in early April, infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said.
In recent weeks, between 160,000 and 190,000 doses have been arriving, counting the state's allocation plus the federal government's direct shipments to chain pharmacies.
Second, health providers were asking for increased flexibility to offer leftover doses to people who've signed up, Malcolm said.
"What we’re trying to pair up here is still immunizing for impact and equity, but creating more flexibility for vaccinators to not slow down and not wait for the next eligibility category, but be more flexible to meet the specific conditions in their communities," Malcolm said.
According to MDH data released Thursday, 1,475,130 Minnesotans have received at least a first dose and 878,469 are fully vaccinated, which is nearly 27 percent and 16 percent of the state’s population, respectively.
Earlier this month, Gov. Tim Walz expanded vaccine eligibility weeks ahead of schedule to those with underlying health conditions and frontline essential workers after the state provided first doses to 70 percent of seniors. As of Thursday, 80 percent of seniors have now gotten a shot.
President Joe Biden has pushed for states to make all adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1.
According to Minnesota's previous vaccine timeline, the next phase would have expanded eligibility to younger adults with underlying conditions plus all 50 to 64 year olds.
Those people are now in line with people who were behind them in the original priority ranking.
MDH is encouraging people to sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector to get regular updates on vaccine availability and eligibility. In some cases, health care providers or employers will have more information for patients or employees on vaccine availability.