Gov. Tim Walz, along with Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health Jan Malcolm talks with clinical lead Jeanne Schumache who was preparing COVID-19 vaccines to be administered to people with appointments at the Earle Brown Heritage Center, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Walz toured the community vaccination clinic to highlight efforts to vaccinate Minnesotans who are 65 and over Thursday. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — More than 35,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine will be reserved this week for Minnesotans aged 65 and older after the state received a boost in supplies from the federal government, state health officials announced Monday.

The state will open large-scale community vaccination sites in Minneapolis and Duluth this week for seniors, with the Minneapolis site also serving educators and child care workers. A third site in southern Minnesota will open next week, and additional sites may open in coming weeks or months.

The community sites will be allotted 6,000 total doses for seniors — the same amount in each of the two prior weeks the state was piloting the program. The remaining roughly 29,000 doses will go to more than 100 hospitals, clinics and health care providers across the state so they can administer shots to seniors in their areas.

The state pivoted its pilot program from a first-come, first-served model to a lottery system when clogged phones and a crashed registration website led to frustration among seniors trying to secure spots during the program's first week. The state began the program at 10 sites across Minnesota after the federal government lowered the recommended age for vaccinations to 65 and up, and added educators and child care staff to the eligibility list.

The change in the state’s vaccination strategy also comes after a 16% increase in weekly doses — or nearly 11,000 doses — from the federal government for an allotment of around 79,000 doses this week. Gov. Tim Walz also diverted another 18,600 doses from the federal pharmacy partnership program that the pharmacies were holding for future use to local providers this week.

The Department of Health also unveiled a new vaccine locator map aimed at helping people connect with clinics, hospitals and other places statewide where they can set up appointments. The map is meant for seniors, but will later expand to serve everyone when more vaccine becomes widely available.

“As the federal government gives us more doses, more providers will come online and more Minnesotans will be able to access vaccine closer to home,” said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “It's just very important that we ... be prepared to not only administer every dose we have now as quickly as we can but to be ready as that supply builds up.”

The original pilot sites are not scheduling any new appointments but will open again on Feb. 11 to administer scheduled second doses to individuals who received their first dose at those sites. More than 220,000 individuals who pre-registered for a dose at those sites last week will be selected for a spot at either the sites in Minneapolis and Duluth, or will need to use the locator map to secure a dose.

In addition to the Minneapolis site, 35 local public health clinics across the state — as well as pharmacies in Brainerd, St. Cloud and Rochester — will administer doses to teachers, school staff and child care workers.

As of Saturday, 441,922 individuals had received a first dose and 116,248 had been fully vaccinated, according to the state's dashboard. More than 559,000 of the more than 834,000 doses shipped to the state had been administered.

GOP Sen. Karin Housley of St. Mary's Point, who chairs the aging committee, held a news conference Monday announcing a “Seniors 1st” vaccination plan that would prioritize Minnesotans over 65 for the vaccine before all other groups. While Housley said she's glad the announcement today expands access to doses for seniors, she said the current plan is still not enough.

“It is imperative that these folks are the only priority to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks while the doses keep coming into the state,” she said. “There can be no more redistribution of the vaccine — it has to be seniors first, then move on to the other phases and get the vaccine to everyone else.”

The virus has been ebbing for weeks in Minnesota, but health officials nationwide are concerned about emerging variants. On Monday, the state reported 727 new infections and two new deaths from the virus, bringing the state's totals to 462,528 cases and 6,202 deaths since the start of the pandemic.


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.