Here's what we know about Minnesota's COVID-19 vaccine plan

Some Minnesota health care workers will start getting coronavirus vaccines before Christmas, the state's top health official said Wednesday.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm provided the clearest picture to date of the state's vaccine rollout, though many questions remain:

How will Minnesota prioritize health care workers?

An advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that health care workers and long-term care residents get vaccinated first.

Malcolm said Minnesota does not have the authority to put other categories of people, including first responders, into that highest-priority category.

Even within the group of health care workers, Minnesota must prioritize because there won't be enough vaccines initially to cover everyone, Malcolm said.

The state will put workers who directly treat coronavirus patients at the front of the line, Walz said. Hospital administrators and even some care providers, such as dermatologists, would have to wait a bit longer, he said.

"These are decisions that need to be based on science, they need to be based on the best practices, these need to be based on the ethics," Walz said.

How many vaccines will Minnesota get at first?

It's unclear.

Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the state health department, could not say how many initial doses Minnesota would get in December.

There are a number of important conversations that need to take place, both within the administration, and with external partners, such as local public health agencies, before we can provide more broadly the details of the first vaccine allotments in Minnesota within a meaningful context. We plan to provide as much of that detail and context as we can in a briefing early next week," Schultz said in an email.

The state has "many more times" the number of health care workers as doses that will be available at first, Schultz said.

In contrast, Iowa's governor has already announced her state's vaccination allotment: 26,000 doses on Dec. 13, and 172,000 doses by the end of the month.

What is the vaccination timeline?

Minnesota officials expect the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve Pfizer's emergency use authorization on Dec. 11. The CDC would then need to put out final guidelines, allowing Minnesota to train staff on vaccine distribution.

Meanwhile, hospitals and pharmacies that will administer many of the shots would need to get up to speed on regulatory requirements.

The first shots will go in Minnesotans' arms likely sometime just before Christmas, Walz and Malcolm said Wednesday.

Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna -- which is second in the pipeline -- both require people to get two shots a few weeks apart.

Once health care workers and long-term care residents are vaccinated, Minnesota and other states will move on to the CDC's "1B" category of first responders and a huge list of other workers deemed essential by the federal government.

The general public won't be vaccinated until the spring as production ramps up, U.S. health officials have said.