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Minnesota vaccine pilot starts giving shots to seniors

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota began administering a limited supply of coronavirus vaccine to seniors through a pilot program on Thursday after federal vaccine priorities expanded last week to include the newly eligible group.

The program’s limited supply of 12,000 shots is reserved for seniors, teachers and child care workers at nine sites across the state, despite what state officials say is an inadequate weekly shipment of 60,000 doses from the federal government. The program aims to provide 6,000 doses per week to the roughly 900,000 Minnesotans over 65.

“I got quite lucky,” said Ron Tupy, 65, of Apple Valley, who was among the first recipients of the vaccine at the program’s Brooklyn Center location on Thursday.

Tupy had some minor trouble with the registration website in the form of error messages as significant demand caused the website to crash on Tuesday, but he said scheduling the appointment and then getting the shot was fairly simple.

“It was actually pretty well organized considering it was the first day,” he said. “People lined up outside, though we didn’t stay out too long, and it went along quite well. I was in and out in probably an hour, maybe less.”

Health officials say the nine sites serve as a foundation for how the state would establish future mass vaccination sites. State officials hope the new Biden administration will significantly increase Minnesota’s allotment, which would boost the state’s distribution pace.

As of Monday, 203,839 first doses of the vaccine have been administered and 41,984 Minnesotans have been fully vaccinated, according to state data. Just over 40% of the nearly 610,000 doses in the state have been used.

Health officials on Thursday reported 32 more Minnesotans have died from COVID-19 and 1,292 new infections, pushing the state over 6,000 deaths and 450,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 560 patients are hospitalized due to complications from the virus, including less than 100 in intensive care for the first time since September.

Tupy, who retired in March right as the pandemic began, said he has tried to avoid leaving his home, resorting to online shopping for much of his needs.

“I had hoped in my retirement that I could start doing some volunteer work,” he said. “I kind of put all of that on hold, at least until I got vaccinated.”

Tupy said he didn’t have any reservations about getting the COVID-19 vaccine because he’s received a variety of other vaccines in his lifetime. With his first dose in his arm and the appointment for the second dose scheduled, he said he’s excited and looking forward to life beyond the pandemic, namely dining out with family and friends.

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.