Minnesota has now provided more than 1 million doses of vaccine to fight the virus that causes COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz announced Friday, even as the state and health care providers scramble in response to weather-related delays in vaccine shipments.
The fact that more Minnesotans are getting shots while many are still unable to secure them shows high demand for vaccination that ultimately should help control the pandemic, although doctors say patience is needed in the near term.
The state on Friday reported a continued surge of sign-ups for a new COVID-19 Vaccine Connector service that will notify people when it's their turn to seek a vaccine, while giving senior citizens access to a lottery for appointments at state-operated sites.
"To pass the 1 million mark is really good news — it's something we should celebrate," said Dr. Marilyn Peitso, president of the Minnesota Medical Association. "Obviously, we have a long ways yet to go, but every vaccine that gets into an arm is great news in our fight against the pandemic."
Severe winter weather in other parts of the country this week delayed at least some COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped by the federal government to Minnesota, state officials said. As a result, the state postponed appointments Thursday and Friday before instituting delays at state-run vaccination clinics Saturday in Minneapolis and Sunday in Duluth and Rochester.
Delays could have been even worse when 11 overdue boxes of vaccine were misdirected to Memphis, Tenn. Walz reached out to senior White House officials Friday afternoon to locate the boxes and get them back on track for same-day delivery to Minnesota, state officials said.
The boxes, which included seven for various medical providers and four for state-operated vaccination sites, were flown to the Twin Cities on Friday night.
Earlier Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported eight more deaths linked to COVID-19 and 1,001 new coronavirus infections. Since the pandemic hit Minnesota nearly one year ago, the state has reported 477,287 cases and 6,412 deaths.
The latest figures continue a recent trend where seven-day rolling averages for cases and deaths in Minnesota have fallen substantially from peaks in November and December to levels seen in September, according to the Star Tribune's coronavirus tracker.
While doctors are encouraged by the trend, they remain wary that case counts might accelerate in coming weeks with the spread of more contagious variant strains.
"Even with numbers down, and even with more and more people being vaccinated, we still need to keep up our guard," Peitso said.
Vaccine hunters started turning to social media Thursday evening to report canceled appointments at pharmacies in the Twin Cities metro and across the state. Sanford Health reported some delays for patients in greater Minnesota as well.
Patients with priority who haven't been able to find vaccine have been frustrated, but the silver lining is that many Minnesotans are confident in the vaccine, said Dr. Rae Ann Williams, an internist with HealthPartners Medical Group.
"We hear it over and over — when is it going to be my turn? When will I be able to get my vaccine?" Williams said. "We're feeling optimistic that things in the supply aspect are going to improve with time, and that has given all of us time to prepare."
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first month's worth of data from vaccine safety monitoring for products by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The study found no unusual or unexpected reporting patterns with the vaccines, which have "reassuring safety profiles."
More than 728,000 Minnesotans have received at least one dose thus far, while 286,543 have completed the two-dose series, the Walz administration reported Friday. The total doses administered statewide stood at 1,016,210.
"This is a milestone day," the DFL governor said.
State Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, applauded progress with vaccines but questioned the state's new Vaccine Connector website for asking seniors to answer what Housley described as "invasive questions."
"I want to know why it matters what our seniors' gender identities and sexual orientations are," Housley said in a statement.
Website users can select "prefer not to answer" or "none of the above" when facing those questions, the Health Department said. Selecting those answers doesn't prevent people from signing up, the state says, and information will be kept private under the state's Data Practices Act.
"Questions about race, gender identity and sexual orientation will help us track and measure our goals for equity and fairness," the Health Department said in a statement.
State officials said that 306,758 people had signed up for notifications through the Vaccine Connector as of 4 p.m. Friday — up from Thursday's 5 p.m. tally of more than 175,000 people. CDC data now rank Minnesota No. 24 among all states in doses administered per 100,000 population.
Staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.
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