MDH: Health providers can give COVID-19 vaccine to those 65 and older, if doses available

The Minnesota Department of Health is advising health care providers if they have any remaining COVID-19 vaccine doses available after vaccinating health care workers, they can provide them to Minnesotans aged 65 years and older as well as younger Minnesotans who have underlying health conditions.

The effort is part of a new directive from the federal government.

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm stressed Thursday this isn't the opening of the flood gates for the next phase in the state's vaccine rollout. This guidance only impacts a limited amount of providers that may have leftover doses.

"We’re talking about small numbers of doses that some providers and some local public health agencies have told us, they would be able to use to vaccinate priority populations because they are through with their version of 1A," said Malcolm. "Those are small numbers and it's really to give the providers flexibility to use what extra they may have right now rather than waiting for permission from us to expand."

CentraCare, which serves central and southwestern Minnesota, says they have vaccinated more than 5,000 of their employees. The health system has 4,000 to 5,000 doses left in their allocation, which staff now plan to use to vaccinate some senior citizens and younger patients with chronic health conditions next week.

"We are protecting our at-risk providers and staff and employees and now we can protect our at-risk patients," said Dr. George Morris of the CentraCare Health System.

Malcolm says the state is "not ready" for Minnesotans in broader groups to start calling their health care providers to get the vaccine. Providers, like CentraCare, will instead be the ones contacting people if they have available doses. 

"Please don't call us. We will call you," said Dr. Morris.

Plans to increase the capacity to administer the vaccine are still being prepared and more information will be provided in the coming days.

State leaders are also calling on the federal government to release more vaccine. Last week, Governor Tim Walz joined a coalition of governors asking for more vaccine to be distributed.