More than 558,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been earmarked for Minnesota, where health officials report continued progress in immunizing people against an infectious disease that has caused at least 5,774 deaths.
Updated figures from the Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday also showed that 146,901 people had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines, and that 7,928 had completed the two-dose course.
Less than one-third of the state's vaccine allocation has been administered, but Minnesota health officials stressed that doses aren't sitting unused in freezers. The total reflects thousands of doses that won't be shipped to Minnesota until next week. More than 120,000 doses also have been diverted to a federal program in which large pharmacy chains such as Walgreens and CVS vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities.
"Vaccine is moving through the state, but the process takes time," said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director, on Tuesday.
The updated supply now exceeds the roughly 500,000 people in the state's initial vaccine priority group of health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. However, the total includes an unspecified number of second doses for the two-dose vaccine, Ehresmann said.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both roughly 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, a respiratory illness caused by exposure to a novel coronavirus, if they are given on schedule in two doses separated by three to four weeks.
Limited initial doses have been rationed in Minnesota per recommendations from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The first group was based on health care workers being at greater risk of viral exposure and long-term care residents who are at elevated risk of severe illness and have suffered 64% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths.
Minnesota's totals in the pandemic include 50 more deaths reported Wednesday along with 1,504 more diagnosed infections — bringing the state's overall case total to 440,354. More than 6 million COVID-19 diagnostic tests have been performed in Minnesota.
The positivity rate of diagnostic testing has increased from 4.7% on Dec. 24 to 7.5% on Jan. 4 — raising concerns of increased viral transmission over the holidays. However, that increase has tapered off, and the number of Minnesota hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients has declined to 665 after a slight increase earlier in the week.
Gov. Tim Walz had scaled back restrictions designed to reduce viral transmission — among other things allowing bars and restaurants to resume indoor service at 50% capacities on Monday — but on Wednesday extended his peacetime emergency order for another 30 days.
The order allows him to implement protections such as the ongoing mask-wearing mandate for indoor public places without legislative approval.
State leaders were planning next week to announce a shift in vaccinations to the next priority group of people 75 and older, and people such as teachers and police officers working in front-line essential occupations. Those plans could change due to revisions in federal guidance on Tuesday, which permitted states to depart from the ACIP recommendations and immediately prioritize vaccine for people 65 and older.
State health officials agreed with the idea in principle — because age is one of the strongest risk factors for severe COVID-19 and deaths — but worried about expanding access to a level that far exceeds the available supply of doses.
The reported number of Minnesotans who have received at least one vaccine dose only increased Wednesday by 2,398. A lag in reporting means that the latest numbers reflected vaccinations that occurred primarily last weekend.
Ehresmann said hospitals, clinic and public health agencies are being encouraged to provide more weekend opportunities to increase Minnesota's vaccination totals.
"In terms of vaccine being administered seven days a week," she said, "that is something we have talked with our partner about."
Alternatives for people seeking protection against COVID-19 include three ongoing clinical trials in Minnesota of promising but unproven vaccine candidates. Allina Health is testing a vaccine made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals while HealthPartners is completing enrollment this week of people into its trial of AstraZeneca's version.
The University of Minnesota last week launched a trial of a Novavax experimental vaccine at its main campus and St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul.
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have already received federal emergency use authorization, the global demand will require more versions, said Dr. Susan Kline, an infectious disease specialist at the U of M Medical School.
"We want to find multiple effective vaccines to have more options," she said, "and to particularly be able to ramp up manufacturing and distribution more quickly."
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744