MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz and several Democratic members of Minnesota's congressional delegation toured a community vaccination site on Monday to highlight several pieces of the federal stimulus package passed last week, which includes billions of dollars to further ramp up vaccination efforts nationwide.
Walz was joined by Minnesota U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, along with Reps. Angie Craig and Betty McCollum and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, at a vaccination site in the Mall of America to highlight several pieces of the “American Rescue Plan” signed into law by President Joe Biden last week. The Minnesota Democrats lauded the $1.9 trillion package that offers grants for restaurants, a child care tax credit for families and funding for schools to reopen, among other measures.
The package reserves nearly $5 billion in aid for Minnesota's state, local and tribal governments, some of which will be aimed at bolstering the state's vaccination apparatus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will receive $7.5 billion to promote, administer and track the vaccine, while expanding access to doses to underserved populations through community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units.
“These dollars are going to specifically help to address the disparities in vaccine distribution, which are part of why we're seeing white Minnesotans getting vaccines at a higher rate than others,” Smith said during the news conference at the site. “And, of course, to make sure everybody gets vaccinated as soon as possible.”
According to the state's vaccine dashboard, more than 90% of individuals over 15 who have received at least one dose of the vaccine are white, though white Minnesotans make up nearly 82% of the state's population.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a media briefing Monday that state health officials are working with community-based health care providers and pharmacies to reach and vaccinate vulnerable and underrepresented communities. Other methods like mobile vaccination approaches are also being considered, she said.
As of Saturday, more than 1.26 million Minnesotans — more than 22% of the state's population — have received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 725,000 have been fully inoculated.
While the state's vaccination pace increases, state officials warned against flouting public health measures like masking and social distancing as coronavirus mutations — called variants — continue to circulate in the state. Health officials said during a briefing Monday that more than 250 cases of the B117 variant first identified in Britain in January have been detected in more than two dozen Minnesota counties.
The initial cases of the variant were first detected in Carver County among youth sports teams. State health officials recommended a two-week pause on youth sports and related activities in the county until March 21 after the outbreak has resulted in a cluster of 140 cases as of Monday.
Health officials said the variant, which is up to 50% more contagious and is associated with more severe symptoms, could possibly derail the state's progress against the virus via mitigation and vaccination efforts.
“While the vaccinations have continued to stand up well to the variants, we are still learning how B117 will affect our vaccination efforts,” said Assistant Health Commissioner Dan Huff. “We are very concerned about this variant and its rapid spread. It has the potential to be a setback to our continued and hard-fought progress against the virus.”
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.