ST. PAUL — Changes are coming to the vaccine clinics that opened across Minnesota last week in a bid to bring an earlier end to the coronavirus pandemic.
Elderly residents are being given more time to sign up for appointments at the sites, one of which is set to relocate this week. A pop-up clinic just for Twin Cities teachers, school staff members and child care workers will also launch this week at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement Monday morning, Jan. 25, that he is directing the changes so Minnesota has "the infrastructure in place to be ready when the federal government finally begins to send us more vaccine," echoing the repeated calls he and state health officials have made for the federal government to produce and distribute greater quantities of vaccine doses.
"Every shot in the arm is another step toward crushing COVID and ending this pandemic. And we're going to get the vaccine we do have into arms quickly in Minnesota — whether that’s a few thousand doses or many more," Walz said.
Regionally and nationally, the demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has so far outstripped the supply. Approximately 529,375 doses have been shipped to Minnesota since mid-December, enough to account for the initial segment of the population that health officials are prioritizing.
That priority group consists mostly of health care workers and long-term care facility residents. Last week, vaccine eligibility was extended to Minnesotans age 65 or older, teachers, school staff members and child care workers for the launch of what officials are calling community vaccination clinics. Walz's office on Monday said 13,300 newly eligible residents were vaccinated at the clinics between Jan. 21 and 23.
Minnesota Department of Health officials cautioned that because the state receives only about 60,000 doses of the vaccine each week, many of which are still being conserved for health care workers and nursing home residents, only a limited number can be set aside for the new clinics for the time being. But that didn't stop residents from barraging the department's clinic scheduling website and phone line, periodically disrupting both services.
Anticipating a similar level of demand, officials announced that seniors citizens can this week make clinic appointments through a lottery system instead of on a first-come, first-served basis. Elderly residents can pre-register for their appointments at mn.gov/findmyvaccine beginning at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26, or by calling 833-431-2053 beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Elderly Minnesotans will have a full 24 hours to register online once the portal is activated. Educators and child care workers, meanwhile, will still be notified by their employers as to when they can visit the clinics, which do not accept walk-ins.
Residents who receive appointments will receive a follow-up with next-step instructions by text message, email or phone call. Officials said Monday that signing up early or later in the day won't affect an individual's chances of being selected for an appointment and recommended pre-registering online.
Older Minnesotans who don't have computers or don't know how to use them are able to ask their family members or close contacts for help registering online, Minnesota IT Services Commissioner Tarek Tomes said at a press conference Monday.
"One of the things that we would really recommend is that you have a family member, whether younger or older, a niece or nephew or uncle that can sign up for you that has access, the online registration is probably going to be your best opportunity," Tomes said.
Minnesotans who registered for a clinic appointment last week were put on a waitlist and will automatically be entered for a chance to receive an appointment this week.
Clinics in Brooklyn Center, Fergus Falls, Mountain Iron, Thief River Falls, St. Cloud, North Mankato, Rochester, Marshall and St. Paul will reopen again this week, however the clinic in Andover will move to Blaine. The Blaine and Brooklyn Center clinics will this week be open only to senior citizens.
Approximately 8,000 doses of vaccine will be set aside for the clinics this week, according to the governor's office. An additional 15,000 will be deployed to the pop-up clinic in St. Paul, which is set to operate Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 28-30.
Like the smaller clinics that came before it, the clinic at the Xcel Energy Center is meant to be a model for future mass-vaccination efforts in Minnesota, the governor's office said.
In another directive announced Monday, the governor's office also put pressure on health care providers administering the vaccine to pick up the pace. Providers receiving doses of the vaccine will now have 72 hours to administer 90% of what they get, the governor's office said, and administer the remainder within one a week.
"If a provider does not meet the goals, they should anticipate potential changes to their vaccine allocations," the governor's office said in a news release.
So far, a total of 335,477 vaccine doses have been administered in Minnesota. Approximately 67,400 residents have received the requisite two doses of the vaccine, which are needed for maximum effectiveness.
An additional 266,985 residents have received at least one dose.
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- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.