(FOX 9) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to 1.8 million people with underlying health conditions and frontline essential workers on Wednesday, three weeks ahead of his initial timeline.
The move opens access to nearly one-third of the state's population that had not previously been eligible. Vaccine supply from the federal government has increased in recent weeks. It is expected to dramatically expand over the next two months.
"We're moving so quickly that we can basically announce two groups at the same time," Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Tuesday.
Walz had said he would not add new groups until 70 percent of seniors citizens had received a vaccine, and the state will reach that threshold Wednesday, health officials said.
Yet the state does not have 1.8 million vaccines available to immediately meet demand, so health officials have prioritized within the newly eligible groups.
About 44,000 food processing plant workers and 28,000 chronically ill people will get top priority. Malcolm said it would take two weeks or less to vaccinate everyone in this category who wants a shot.
Next will come a much larger group of 1.7 million, including anyone age 45 and older who has an underlying health condition and all younger adults who have two such conditions. People age 50 and older who live in multigenerational homes will be eligible.
Frontline essential workers -- a category that includes grocery stores, restaurants, transit workers, manufacturing and others -- will also get access.
It will take four to six weeks to vaccinate everyone in these groups who wants a shot, Malcolm said.
Walz predicted that he would expand eligibility again in mid-April, an aggressive timeline that would require increased vaccine supply from the current levels.
"We're basing this (timeline) on current projections from the federal government that, I have to be candid with you, I would be shocked if it went down," Walz said. "It's probable that it will go up."
About 160,000 first doses from Pfizer and Moderna are coming into Minnesota this week through the regular state allocation and vaccines shipped directly to chain pharmacies in the federal government's retail pharmacy program.
The Biden administration is planning to ship a modest increase of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to states next week.
The feds did not ship any Johnson & Johnson doses to states this week because of manufacturing issues, but state officials expect to receive a new shipment next week.
Nearly 1.1 million Minnesotans have now gotten at least one dose, and 602,000 have completed their vaccine series.
Who is becoming eligible for vaccination starting Wednesday?
Phase 1b Tier 2 populations, including:
- Minnesotans with specific underlying health conditions: Sickle cell disease, Down syndrome, those in cancer treatment or immunocompromised from organ transplant, oxygen-dependent chronic lung and heart conditions (COPD & CHF)
- Targeted essential workers: Food processing plant workers
- Minnesotans with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe illness
Phase 1b Tier 3 populations, including:
- Minnesotans age 45 years and older with one or more underlying medical conditions identified by the CDC
- Minnesotans age 16 years and older with two or more underlying medical conditions
- Minnesotans age 50 years and older in multi-generational housing
- Essential frontline workers: Agricultural, airport staff, additional child care workers not previously eligible, correctional settings, first responders, food production, food retail, food service, judicial system workers, manufacturing, public health workers, public transit, and U.S. Postal Service workers
For more information on who is eligible, visit the MDH website here.
All Minnesotans who have not received a vaccine should sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector to get regular updates on vaccine availability and eligibility. In some cases, health care providers or employers will have more information for patients or employees on vaccine availability.