Walz: Minnesota to get first vaccines by mid-December; Christmas restrictions likely

Minnesota will get its first coronavirus vaccine shipments by mid-December in the state's darkest hours of the pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz said Monday.

Yet the limited initial doses will be reserved for certain groups -- health care workers or medically vulnerable older people -- while the vaccine is not expected to be widely available until the spring. Restrictions on private gatherings will be needed at Christmas to slow virus spread in the meantime, Walz told reporters during a wide-ranging news conference.

Minnesota recorded 1,553 deaths in November, 43 percent of the state's total since the pandemic started in March. Hospitalizations doubled over the month, and there were 170,604 newly reported cases. Public health officials said they expect the death and hospitalization data to get worse in the short term.

"I'm not going to surprise anybody. I think the guidance around Thanksgiving is going to be very similar around Christmas," Walz said. The governor had urged people not to gather with anyone outside their immediate household for Thanksgiving.

The governor did not say what that would mean for gyms, bars and restaurants that he's ordered to close through at least Dec. 18.

He said he was hopeful for a deal with Minnesota legislative leaders by week's end on an economic relief package that would send cash payments to businesses affected by the shutdowns. Walz has said he would call a special session if there's agreement.

Vaccine rollout

Walz gave his most wide-ranging comments about vaccine distribution, having just finished a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Anthony Fauci and several other governors Monday afternoon.

Pfizer is first in the distribution pipeline, though Moderna's vaccine appears to be close behind. The first mass air shipment of Pfizer's vaccines arrived in the U.S. on Monday.

Pfizer's vaccine will be distributed to states based on their population, and will likely be pre-positioned even before the company gets its emergency use authorization, which could happen on Dec. 11, Walz said. 

There's a debate within President Donald Trump's administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over who should get the first shots -- health care workers, or people 65 and older, the governor said.

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Minnesota health commissioner Jan Malcolm said she expected direction from the federal government soon.

"It's hard to say yet before we get the federal framework how much will be left for the state to do, but there will be some customization," Malcolm said. "We're hoping for pretty specific guidelines, to be honest."

Walz said he was planning a public briefing early next week to outline more of Minnesota's vaccine distribution plan.

Gov. Walz addresses misinformation

The governor also took a moment to respond to questions regarding misinformation that had been spreading Thanksgiving week. One claim that Gov. Walz spent Thanksgiving in Florida circulated on social media, despite the fact the governor was at home in St. Paul.

"Some of this is nothing new, the personal attacks on elected officials," he said. "I was with my family in my home; I have not left the state since March."

When asked about his response to other falsehoods spreading on social media, particularly those pertaining to the pandemic, Walz said, "The thing I most worry about is if you’re willing to believe those types of things without any proof, you’re probably not going to listen to me when I tell you to wear a mask. I've watched this - there's a whole cottage industry around this [...] those types of things undermine faith in institutions."