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Walz visits pilot vaccination site in Brooklyn Center

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz and his health commissioner visited a community vaccination center Thursday to see how a pilot program for giving COVID-19 vaccines is going, and said they’re hoping to learn what works and what doesn’t as they try to speed up the pace of vaccinations across Minnesota.

The Earle Brown Center in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center hosts one of several centers that the state is testing to see how useful they are for supplementing the clinics and pharmacies that state health officials still expect will be the main vaccine providers as supplies slowly ramp up. Most of the pilot sites serve Minnesota residents 65 and older whose names are selected via an online lottery system.

The Democratic governor told reporters after his tour that a conference call with the White House and other governors on Wednesday left him optimistic that supplies will grow and become more predictable under President Joe Biden’s administration.

“I’m pretty encouraged,” Walz said, flanked by Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “I think there is a strategic national plan.”

Also Thursday, mass vaccination of 15,000 Twin Cities area educators got underway at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. But many teachers of early grades in St. Paul schools, who were supposed to be prioritized because they’re returning to the classroom next week, found themselves waitlisted after schools sent out far more invitations than the doses available.

St. Paul school officials said sharing of an online sign-up link was more widespread than intended. That resulted in appointments being quickly filled by some educators who weren’t on the priority list. The district issued a statement regretting that staff shared the link, despite warnings not to do so.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported that providers across the state had given 320,347 people at least their first dose as of Tuesday, including 85,217 who had also receives their second dose. Those numbers include people who work at Minnesota health care institutions but live in neighboring states, and are low because of reporting lags. The department said a total of 826,625 first and second doses have been shipped to 441 provider sites across Minnesota.