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Minnesota tweaks vaccination efforts amid questions of pace

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz announced a series of changes to vaccine distribution efforts on Monday after questions of the state’s pace and heavy demand for a community vaccination program last week crashed a website and angered many people who could not get through.

State officials have shifted the program from a first-come, first-served system to a lottery that allows 24 hours to sign up, beginning at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, for Minnesotans over 65 for a chance to be randomly selected for an appointment. The registration system just launched last week, only to be clogged with calls and the website to crash due to significant demand.

Walz said during a media briefing Monday that the program is meant to serve as a foundation for a broader vaccination effort in the future. The small number of doses allocated to the program will still make securing an appointment challenging as the state waits for a bigger allocation from the federal government, he said.

“It is not an ideal situation, it has not been done before on this scale, and that frustration is still going to come to them,” he said. “This week, it’s going to be hard to get them but that experience will be smoother and you’ll be in the system.”

The state will also hold a mass vaccination event for teachers, school staff and child care workers in the metro area at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul starting on Thursday and continuing through Feb. 1. State officials are reserving 15,000 Moderna doses for the event, which will free up the sites in Brooklyn Center and Blaine to only serve seniors this week.

The program, which began last week, has administered first doses to more than 13,300 individuals at the nine sites across the state. Only about 8,000 doses are reserved for seniors through the program this week, diverted from the state’s weekly allotment of 68,000 — which includes second doses reserved for those who have received their first shot.

In an effort to address efficiency issues, Walz also announced on Monday that vaccine providers across the state will now have 72 hours to administer at least 90% of their doses, and a week to administer all of the doses, or face a decrease in the number of doses they receive.

As of Friday, 266,985 first doses have been administered statewide and 67,436 individuals have received both shots of vaccine. Just over 49% of 682,675 doses shipped to Minnesota have been used.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 794 new infections and 3 deaths — the lowest number of new single-day infections since September. The state’s total’s now stand at 455,783 cases and 6,098 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

As of Thursday, 543 patients were hospitalized with complications due to COVID-19, including 104 in intensive care. The seven-day average of daily deaths in Minnesota continued to decline over the past two weeks, going from more than 39 deaths on Jan. 10 to 24 on Sunday, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

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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.