Gov. Tim Walz said the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine has been frustrating at times, but that Minnesota has made progress in immunizing the most vulnerable of the 3 million or so people in the state who need to receive shots.
The governor on Friday visited a New Hope nursing home — where in-person indoor visits are allowed again and workers and residents have received shots — to demonstrate that Minnesota is on a return to normalcy. The state on Friday reported that all nursing home residents in Minnesota have been offered vaccinations and 80% received at least first doses.
"This is a true vision of what the end of the tunnel looks like," said Walz, standing in a lobby to the Good Samaritan Society-Ambassador facility that would have been off limits a few days ago.
Minnesota's allocation of federally controlled COVID-19 vaccine is 871,650 doses, an increase of 244,725 from the previous weekly tally. The state on Friday also reported that 214,050 people have received first doses and 49,604 have completed the series — an increase of more than 17,000 doses administered compared with Thursday's figures.
Minnesota needs 3 million adults to get shots if estimates are correct that an 80% vaccination rate will stifle the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Walz said.
"The folks that are most likely to get severely sick from COVID are starting to be vaccinated and pulled out of that number," Walz said, but it will take months at the current pace to vaccinate that many Minnesotans.
The governor said that pace would quicken dramatically if President Joe Biden makes good on his pledge to push for 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.
The Good Samaritan facility permitted in-person indoor visits after a COVID-free stretch that lasted four weeks. Second doses of vaccine are coming next week for residents and staff, adding a further sense of relief, said Kim Stoltzman, the facility's nursing director.
"For the first time, I actually felt hope," she said.
Walz said he was dismayed by a recent national survey showing that 60% of people don't know when or how they will be vaccinated and pledged to provide more basic timeline information to Minnesotans — even those whose opportunities might be months away.
"We need to give Minnesotans some of that [hopeful] feeling just by knowing that they are in the queue and they are scheduled when the vaccine gets there," he said.
Minnesota has been criticized for a slower rate of vaccines administered per capita in its fight against a pandemic that has now caused the deaths of 6,032 Minnesotans and 452,268 diagnosed infections in the state.
That includes 21 COVID-19 deaths and 1,525 infections reported on Friday.
The state dropped to 37th in the latest per capita measure of total doses administered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but ranks 16th in the number of second doses administered.
Clinical trials show around 95% effectiveness when the shots were administered on schedule — with second doses coming four weeks after the first doses of Moderna vaccine and three weeks after the first doses of Pfizer vaccine.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said one reason is that providers in Minnesota have been deliberate about securing vaccine before arranging appointments — avoiding problems in other states where clinicians canceled appointments because they didn't have the vaccine they expected.
However, Walz on Friday acknowledged that Minnesota's initial approach was cautious, leaving a lot of doses committed to appointments that were days away.
That realization is partly what prompted the state to divert 12,000 of this week's shipment of 60,000 doses to nine test clinics for COVID-19 vaccinations of people 65 and older as well as teachers and child-care providers.
Walz said online registration for these shots proved challenging Tuesday as seniors crashed a state website.
He said even his nephews and nieces tried and failed on the site to get appointments in Marshall for his in-laws.
The governor said he was pleased that the sites ultimately vaccinated many seniors and limited waste. When some people didn't show up for appointments, a backup list was used to connect people with available doses.
Walz said he wants the state to move toward an orderly advance registry of people who can be contacted by the state when a dose is available for them.
"[Then] it's not 'Hunger Games' to get 10 spots," he said.
The expansion disappointed some people because it made limited shots available to people 65 and older — even though the state hasn't finished vaccinating the priority group of health care workers and long-term care residents.
Following vaccinations of workers in hospital ERs and COVID-19 treatment units, providers have struggled to arrange appointments with thousands of unaffiliated clinicians, dentists, therapists and others.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday offered a new online form to link those workers with vaccination opportunities.
Some Minnesotans 75 and older were disappointed by the expansion, because they were supposed to be the second priority group and suddenly had to compete with younger adults for vaccine.
COVID-19 severity escalates with age — having caused the deaths of 659 Minnesotans in their 60s, but 1,297 in their 70s and 2,130 in their 80s.
Malcolm said the broader age category was needed to ensure adequate sign-up for the mass vaccination events and to make sure no vaccine was wasted.
However, she said providers can offer shots to patients while still vaccinating workers and are supposed to focus on patients 75 and older.
HealthPartners offered vaccine to a random set of patients 75 and older this week, but it quickly filled appointments and isn't scheduling more. The health system estimates a 90% reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths once 70% of patients 65 and older are vaccinated.
Staff writer Chris Serres contributed to this report.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744