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Walz lays out timeline for future COVID vaccines

MN will wait until 70% of seniors are vaccinated before expanding vaccine eligibility

As Minnesota continues to roll out COVID-19 vaccines, the focus will stay on seniors for a little longer.

Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday that the state will wait until 70% of adults age 65 and older are vaccinated before expanding eligibility to other high-risk groups.

Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health laid out a timeline for COVID vaccinations that estimated the state could meet that goal by the end of March, and then open up vaccinations for food plant workers and people with health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Walz said Minnesota has made a lot of progress in COVID-19 response, as the number of COVID deaths statewide have dropped rapidly. COVID deaths among long-term care residents are down 97% from their November peak, he said.

“The finish line is there. Let’s finish this thing,” Walz said at a live address Thursday afternoon. Nearly 1.2 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Minnesota so far, he said.

In the Marshall area, public health workers are still focused on vaccinating vulnerable populations like long-term care residents, teachers and child care workers, said Carol Biren, public health director at Southwest Health and Human Services.

“Right now it doesn’t really change anything,” Biren said of Walz’s announcement. She said SWHHS could finish vaccinating those first priority groups in the next couple of weeks. Beyond that, public health has “definitely started planning” for the next wave of eligibility, she said.

On the state’s new vaccination timeline, COVID-19 vaccine could be available to the general public by this summer. However, Walz and MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the process could go faster if more vaccines become available. If a new one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is approved for use, “It will certainly change our timeline,” Walz said.

Walz said the state’s timeline for vaccine eligibility is based on data showing which groups of people are most at risk from the coronavirus. Around 90% of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota were among people age 65 and older, which is why they remain a high priority. Other current priorities include teachers and health care workers.

“We’re going to continue to focus on those seniors until we hit about 70% (vaccinated),” Walz said.

The next priority tier, which could open around April, includes people with high-risk health conditions like a compromised immune system, and chronic lung or heart conditions. Walz said meatpackers and other food processing plant workers would be included in the same eligibility tier, as they have also been seriously affected by COVID-19.

From April through June, the state timeline gradually includes more categories of essential wor kers, including agricultural workers, jail workers, food service, manufacturing, transportation and communications workers.

People age 50-64 could be eligible for COVID vaccines in May or June, and the general public could be eligible sometime this summer.

In the meantime, local providers are continuing to offer COVID-19 vaccination appointments to people age 65 and older, as vaccine supplies are available. In Lyon County, providers include SWHHS, Sanford Tracy Medical Center, Thrifty White in Marshall, the Marshall Hy-Vee, and GuidePoint Pharmacy in Marshall, according to the state of Minnesota’s online vaccine finder.

Avera Marshall Medical Center has also urged patients age 85 and older to call if they would like to receive a vaccine.

Malcolm said it’s important to follow COVID-19 safety procedures even if you have received the vaccine.

“It doesn’t mean not going out at all,” she said. But it does mean continuing to wear a mask and practicing social distancing

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