Minnesota launches vaccine pilot program targeting schools, child care, 65+ populations

Josh Skluzacek
Updated: January 19, 2021 11:22 AM
Created: January 18, 2021 11:29 AM

Monday, Gov. Tim Walz announced the state is launching a COVID-19 vaccine pilot program to target teachers and school staff, child care workers and people 65 years of age and older.

The program will partner with local public health and school districts, and will be the foundation for mass vaccination clinics in the state when vaccine supply increases.

The governor's office said nine pilot sites will launch this week but the limited vaccine supply means only a small doses will be available for eligible Minnesotans. Appointments will be required and Minnesotans should not contact their providers about vaccines at this time.

"We are building for the future and doing what we can to get more shots to Minnesotans right now," Walz said. "By beginning to serve those age 65 and older, educators and child care workers, we are immunizing for impact. It's a step in the right direction on this long road to recovery. The federal government has been giving mixed messages on vaccine availability and guidance, and we need them to step up and get more vaccine to the state. When they do, we will be ready. The end of this pandemic is closer today than it was yesterday."

Walz urged Minnesotans to be patient as more vaccine doses arrive in the weeks and months ahead, and again called on the federal government to buy more doses for states.

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While the population eligible for the vaccine is expanding, health care workers and long-term care residents and staff can still get the vaccine through their workplace, care facility or local public health. More details on Phase 1B of the state's plan are dependent on decisions still being made by the federal government, the governor's office said. Malcolm said the federal government's abrupt change in guidance last week is the reason the state's release of guidance for Phase 1B is delayed. 

In addition to the nine pilot sites, Walz said his administration is working with community clinics and other federally qualified health centers on how to best serve Minnesota's Black, Indigenous, communities of color and uninsured populations.

All Minnesotans, regardless of location, will need an appointment to get the vaccine, according to the governor's office. Health care providers are working with state officials to develop systems to let their patients that are 65 and older know when they can start making appointments to receive the vaccine, so Minnesotans shouldn't contact their providers yet.

The state will begin offering vaccines on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week to eligible Minnesotans, and the Minnesota Department of Health will make appointment scheduling available on MN.gov/Vaccine on Tuesday at noon. Appointments can also be made by calling 612-426-7230 or toll-free at 1-833-431-2053. MDH says Minnesotans should attempt to make an appointment online before dialing the call center. For those who cannot immediately make an appointment, MDH notes they may be able to sign up for a waitlist. 

"These new state sites will immediately provide more vaccines to some Minnesotans who are eligible for their shot," MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "More importantly, this pilot program will help Minnesota continue to build up a broad and multi-channel vaccine distribution system with our local public health, healthcare, and pharmacy partners for vaccine access once the federal government begins shipping a higher volume of doses. Not every Minnesotan can get the vaccine right now, but we will be ready to give a shot to everyone who needs one once we have more doses on hand."

Malcolm noted it's the largest vaccination effort in the world's history and there are multiple partners working together to try to make it work, but added that it's a "race against the clock." However, Minnesotans need to be patient.

Schools and districts will work directly with employees to secure appointments through the pilot sites, and child care programs will be randomly selected and notified when vaccines are available. The state is encouraging schools to prioritize their vaccine allotment at this time.

Well over 1 million people now are eligible under the new program, Malcolm said, and when you add the approximately 500,000 Minnesotans in Phase 1A to that number, the fact that everyone needing two doses, about 620,000 doses allocated to Minnesota from the federal government and the state getting only about 60,000 additional doses per week, Minnesotans will have to be patient. She noted that they hope the federal government will be able to increase vaccine supply soon.

Walz asked Minnesotans who are less vulnerable to COVID-19 to consider waiting to get the vaccine until the state has a higher supply of vaccine doses.

"It's not without its pitfalls," Walz said of the pilot program, noting that many Minnesotans will get frustrated by not being able to get an appointment, but he said it was worth it to at least start getting some vulnerable Minnesotans their shots.

HealthPartners CEO Andrea Walsh highlighted the short supply of vaccine doses, saying that HealthPartners' system could administer more shots in a day than they currently do in a week if the federal government could provide more vaccine doses.

Walz said a fraction of the state's weekly allocation will go to the pilot program with the remainder of the allocation going to what the state has been doing. This first week, about 12,000 of the state's 60,000 doses will be allocated to the pilot program. Walz said that number will be scaled up if the federal government starts getting more doses to Minnesota.

"Every single shot that gets done with this vaccine is one day closer to protecting not only the person who receives the shot but all of those around them, especially the most vulnerable," Walz said.

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