Walz to vaccinate 70% of seniors before expanding eligibility

Once 70% of the state’s seniors have received the vaccine, Minnesota will expand eligibility based on underlying health conditions and workplace exposure risk.

Gov. Walz visits the Jones-Harrison assisted living facility earlier this month. (Gov. Tim Walz/Twitter)

(The Center Square) — On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz announced Minnesota will vaccinate 70% of state seniors before expanding eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The governor’s expressed goal is to expand vaccination eligibility by the end of March.

As of Thursday, Minnesota has given the first vaccination to about 43%, or 373,455 people aged 65 and over, and the second shot to 143,977 people.

Severe illness and deaths in long-term care settings have plummeted as many of the most at-risk Minnesotans have been vaccinated. Deaths are down 97% from their November peak, and cases are down 89%, according to Walz’s office.

“We set out to protect the most vulnerable Minnesotans, and we are honoring that commitment. Older Minnesotans have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are focused on making sure they get vaccinated and keeping them safe,” Walz said in a statement. “These vaccines work — we can see that in the plummeting cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in long-term care facilities around our state.”

About 89% of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota have come from those aged 65 and over.

“COVID-19 has taken a tremendous toll, but the progress we are making against it is very encouraging,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “Every day we are getting closer to the end of this pandemic thanks to these safe and effective vaccines and the hard work of so many Minnesotans.”

Once 70% of the state’s seniors have received the vaccine, Minnesota will expand eligibility based on underlying health conditions and workplace exposure risk. Current projections show the next group will be eligible for vaccines in April and early spring, including people with specific high-risk health conditions such as sickle cell disease, down syndrome, active cancer treatment or immunocompromised from organ transplants, oxygen-dependent chronic lung disease and heart conditions.

The announcement follows criticism from the AARP that the vaccine process left seniors “frustrated and confused” how to get a shot.

Anticipated timelines for phases are subject to change as vaccine supply from the federal government is adjusted. Details are available on the Who’s Getting Vaccinated page.

Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine still far exceeds supply. All Minnesotans should have access to a vaccine by this summer, Walz’s office said.