Minnesota expects no disruption from J&J vaccine production mishap

If you've got an appointment for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, Minnesota health officials say you'll likely be able to keep it despite J&J's recent production mishap.

J&J said Wednesday it had to throw away up to 15 million doses of vaccine from a facility in Baltimore because the company that makes them, Emergency Biosolutions, failed to meet quality standards. Current doses arriving from a facility in the Netherlands are not affected.

"At this point, it seems it will not affect Minnesota's doses, but we are waiting for final confirmation from CDC," infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Minnesota's vaccine supply is scheduled to increase over the next two weeks. Minnesota is supposed to get 31,000 J&J doses this week and 80,800 next week, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, while Pfizer and Moderna doses will be relatively flat week over week.

Thousands of people have already booked available appointments for all three vaccines this week, and pharmacies and health providers are already scheduling into next week.

Gov. Tim Walz made all 4.4 million people ages 16 and older eligible for a shot starting Tuesday. As of Thursday, 1.7 million, or 38 percent, had received at least one dose.

The vaccine push comes as state officials race against a surge in cases driven by virus variants. Minnesota reported 2,140 new infections Thursday, the highest number since Jan. 10. There are more people hospitalized than at any point since late January.

The more contagious B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom is quickly becoming the dominant strain in Minnesota. The state's medical director, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, said 54 percent to 66 percent of positive cases tested over a six-day period in late March were the B117 variant.

"We are all tired of this virus and the restrictions it has brought on, but we need to act now," Lynfield said.

Relaxed rules for long-term care residents

One place where infections have plunged in recent weeks: long-term care facilities, where an average of more than 80 percent of residents are now fully vaccinated.

Just in time for the Easter weekend, residents will be allowed to leave their facilities and gather with friends and family without quarantining upon their return. The relaxed rules apply to any long-term care resident regardless of whether they've been vaccinated.

Residents who are gone for more than 24 hours or come in close contact with anyone who is COVID-positive should still quarantine. 

Fake vaccination cards

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined 44 other attorneys general calling on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to police their websites for people marketing and selling fake vaccination cards.

"The false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threatens the health of our communities, slows progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and area violation of the laws of many states," the attorneys general wrote.

The FBI has warned people who have not been vaccinated not to fill in blank proof-of-vaccination cards with false information. The bureau has also told people who have been vaccinated not to post photos of their vaccination cards on social media, as many have already done.