Minnesota expands COVID vaccinations to seniors, teachers, child care workers

Minnesota will starting giving the coronavirus vaccine to people 65 years and older, teachers and child care workers this week, but initial doses will be very limited.

Nine appointment-only sites across the state will start offering vaccines on Thursday. Walk-ins are not allowed. Starting at noon Tuesday, eligible Minnesotans will be able to sign up for appointments online.

The expansion makes more than 1 million additional Minnesotans eligible for a shot, but only 12,000 doses will be made available this week because of a nationwide shortage of doses. Eligible Minnesotans can also get vaccinated through their health care provider, if supply allows.

"This is going to be harder than going to Ticketmaster and getting Bruce Springsteen tickets because everybody will be right at 12 o'clock trying to get on," Gov. Tim Walz told reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon.

The nine pilot sites are in Anoka, Brooklyn Center, Fergus Falls, Marshall, Mountain Iron, North Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud and Thief River Falls.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said at the current pace, it'll take four and a half months to get through the new priority group. Minnesota will be stuck for at least a few more weeks at its current allotment of 60,000 doses a week from the federal government, she said.

The U.S. coronavirus vaccine rollout has been plagued by confusion and shortages. To date, the country has not reached 20 million people vaccinated, a mark the Trump administration had expected to hit by the end of 2020.

New vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are expected to win federal approval and join the fight with Pfizer and Moderna, but that process will take several more weeks.

People ages 65+

Health providers will contact their 65-and-older patients when they can start making appointments, health officials said.

People should not call their provider asking for an appointment.

Pre-K through 12th grade educators

School districts, charter schools, tribal schools and others will notify employees if they've been selected to schedule an appointment. Doses will be limited, and schools must prioritize those educators with face-to-face contact with children.

Vaccines will be allocated proportionally to each region's school workforce. Administrators at ISD 728 in Elk River said they were allocated 25 doses for this week, out of a school staff of 1,400.

Child care workers

Child care programs will be randomly selected and will be notified when doses are available, state officials said.

Health care workers, long-term care residents

The expanding priority list means some health care workers who haven't already been vaccinated will have to wait longer, infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said.

Health officials have pledged to offer first doses to all health care workers by the end of January. But on Monday, officials said only that they would schedule health care workers by the end of January, though their actual shot may happen sometime in February.

"The bottom line is no matter what we do, people will be and are angry," Ehresmann said. "There are just not enough doses for everyone who wants to be vaccinated."

The highest-priority subset -- health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients, along with nursing home residents -- have now been vaccinated. The state and its partners are still working to vaccinate people in assisted living facilities.

At least 90 percent of residents in long-term care facilities are taking the shots that are offered to them, but the percentage is "much lower" among staff, Walz said.

Slow rollout

In Minnesota, 194,462 people have gotten at least one vaccine shot, and 38,025 people have gotten both doses, according to state Health Department data

About 45 percent of the vaccines shipped to Minnesota health care providers, as well as pharmacies for vaccination in long-term care facilities, have been used.

In each of the past two weeks, more than 70,000 doses have been administered, after a slow ramp-up in December.