Minnesota's COVID plan: All health care workers, nursing home residents vaccinated by Jan. 31

All 500,000 health care workers and long-term care residents will get coronavirus vaccines by the end of January, Minnesota health officials said they expected Monday.

Doing so would mark a major milestone in the state's fight against the pandemic, and would allow health officials to turn their attention to an even larger group of essential workers and older residents. 

The timeline is contingent on whether the federal government sends enough vaccines from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna to the state, officials cautioned.

As of Sunday, more than 2,900 Minnesota health care workers had been vaccinated, showing the significant uphill climb ahead. The vaccination effort will increase this week and next -- long-term care residents will start getting vaccinated on Dec. 28. 

But the state's infectious disease director, Kris Ehresmann, sought to temper expectations.

"I think it’s safe to say that 100,000 doses administered in a week might be a lot," she told reporters Monday when asked about that specific number. "But keep in mind, most providers couldn’t start until Thursday. Many providers didn’t even get their vaccine until Friday. You should expect to see many more doses in the days ahead."

Who's next?

When Minnesota vaccinates everyone in the so-called Phase 1A category -- health care workers and long-term care residents -- it will then move to Phase 1B in February.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel this weekend recommended that 30 million front-line essential workers, along with people age 75 and older, fall into 1B. The CDC doesn't have to go along with the recommendation, but typically does.

Front-line first responders include teachers, police, firefighters, and grocery store workers, according to the CDC's advisory group.

The advisory panel classified all other essential workers, a group estimated to be 57 million people, in Phase 1C. Along with them are people ages 65-74 and those ages 16-64 at high risk of serious illness.

Minnesota will face an initial vaccine shortage and will have to sub-prioritize even within the priority groups. Minnesota's working group on vaccine distribution, a panel that includes doctors and public health officials, will meet in December and again in January before producing its guidelines on Jan. 18, Ehresmann said.

"There are many people deserving of receiving vaccine early on but with limited doses right now, we are going to have to make tough decisions for what order things will go in," she said. 

$8.75 billion for vaccine distribution

Minnesota and all other states will get an infusion of funding from the federal stimulus bill that Congress approved Monday night.

The bill includes $8.75 billion for vaccine distribution, of which $4.5 billion will go to states and localities.

Gov. Tim Walz said he did not know how big Minnesota's slice of the pie would be. Walz said he was excited that the stimulus package included the vaccine funding along with a new round of housing assistance, an unemployment insurance boost, and direct checks to Americans.

"I view this as a big win. In this highly polarized political environment, that they came up with something at this point, it’s a good thing," Walz said. 

The funding will be critical when Minnesota starts to vaccinate people who don't work in health care or are residents of long-term care -- in other words, people who don't have vaccines stored on-site where they work or live.

The state will ultimately set up vaccination sites for people to get their shots, Ehresmann said.