The Star Tribune. January 23, 2021.

Editorial: Minnesota must drill down further on vaccine rollout

Tech solutions are vital, but what can be done to help elderly who live independently?

At noon Tuesday, the second round of appointments opens up at Minnesota’s nine new publicly run COVID vaccine pilot sites.

The tech-savvy already know the drill. Have the computer fired up and ready to land on the appointment web page as the clock strikes midday. The same come-out-of-the-gate-fast strategy holds for those aiming to secure a slot by phone (1-833-431-2053). Frustratingly, preparation also has to include this: girding for disappointment if these efforts don’t secure an appointment.

The vaccine supply allocated by federal officials to Minnesota and other states wasn’t close to meeting demand even before early eligibility was expanded earlier this month. That lowered the high-risk age from 75 to 65 and included younger people with some serious medical conditions. When so many are at the front of the line, there effectively is no front of the line.

One of the consequences: the frustration boiling over in Minnesota last Tuesday when demand for the first round of shots swamped the state health department’s website and phone lines. The state’s IT professionals and their vendors must not let happen again even as the supply math continues to work against them.

With only 12,000 doses available weekly for the state’s nine vaccine sites, demand will far outstrip availability again. Those online and on the phone shouldn’t wait for hours only to be left in limbo. Even if the answer is disappointing, a clear, prompt response is vital. Perspective is also in order for those who fail to get an appointment. A message that cannot be emphasized enough: the nine vaccine sites are not the only way to get the vaccine in Minnesota. A federal partnership involving large chain pharmacies is charged with vaccinating residents of nursing homes and assisted-living centers. There’s a dedicated supply for that effort, and the partnership is working its way through state facilities. If your elderly loved one is in long-term care, check with administrators first for a status update.

Health care providers also play a critical role in vaccinating Minnesotans. Although they’re also struggling with limited supply, providers such as HealthPartners and M Health Fairview plan to notify eligible patients as shots become available. A recommendation for health care providers: clearer communication about this notification plan — whether online, via e-mail or individual letters — would help allay fears about being overlooked.

As federal and state vaccine plans gel, there is a group that merits special concern: elderly who live on their own, not in long-term care centers.

One concern is that they don’t appear to have access to the chain pharmacies’ long-term-care efforts. They may also face delays getting the shots because of the newly expanded group of people now competing for the shot.

This week, Carl Hobert, director of the Boston University Global Literacy Institute, called an editorial writer with that exact complaint. His parents, ages 85 and 92, still live on their own in St. Paul. He said they haven’t yet been able to get vaccinated. “The deck is stacked against the elderly, especially those who are living independently,” Hobert said. He is contacting Minnesotan’s congressional and legislative leaders for help.

Solutions are critical. The elderly are at highest risk of dying from COVID. The answers aren’t easy, but that’s no excuse. Let’s figure this out.

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Mankato Free Press. January 24. 2021.

Editorial: Vaccines: State must remain nimble in rollout

Minnesota’s rollout of coronavirus vaccines has to this point remained somewhat underwhelming. It’s important the state overcome bureaucratic obstacles and manage not only distribution of vaccines but the risk of each form of distribution.

Federal data comparisons show Minnesota in the middle of the pack for the quickness of its vaccine distribution, with about 40 percent of its allocation delivered into the arms of patients according to data released Thursday. State officials say the slower rollout is due to the state following more closely the CDC guidelines on who gets vaccines first. In Minnesota, that means long-term care facilities with at risk elderly populations came first along with their caregivers.

Going that route typically slows vaccine distribution due to intermediate steps that must be taken to secure vaccines and follow procedures for the long-term care facilities. States that varied from the CDC guidelines distributed some vaccines immediately to other populations such as those over 65 who could get shots more quickly and easily at larger, more streamlined vaccination sites.

That’s a fair assessment and there has been plenty of public support in Minnesota for making the sick, the elderly and those most at risk for COVID a priority for vaccines.

But it was good to see Minnesota take a more balanced approach with the establishment of nine pilot programs around that state designed to get vaccines to those over 65, school teachers and child care workers. One of the sites is located at Dakota Meadows Middle School in North Mankato. The statewide pilot program’s 6,000 slots for those over 65 filled up quickly and the reservation website was overwhelmed by Wednesday.

The state is directing about 20 percent of its 60,000 weekly vaccine allocation to the special program covering both groups.

Getting vaccines quickly and efficiently matters. The more people we get vaccinated quickly, the more we can reduce the risk of spread. The more we can reduce the risk of spread, the more we can keep businesses open to get the economy running again.

And, of course, the quicker we get vaccines out to people, fewer will die.

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Albert Lea Tribune. January 19, 2021.

Editorial: Do your part to keep the COVID-19 numbers down

Freeborn County Public Health issued a press release over the weekend about how positive COVID-19 cases have continued to rise in Freeborn County over the last few weeks, while other counties in southeastern Minnesota are seeing numbers decline.

While there are likely many factors that have contributed to that increase, the department stated some of the factors involve family and private gatherings to celebrate recent holidays, youth sports practices starting, and bars and restaurants opening up.

We hope everyone uses this time as a reminder to stick to the basic safety measures, including wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.

While vaccinations have begun, and this week more information was provided about vaccinations for people ages 65 and older, many questions remain and there is still a ways to go.

We know people miss the way things used to be before the pandemic and miss the interactions; however, we hope that until things are able to fully return to the pre-COVID way of living, people will help keep things open as much as possible by doing their part to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

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