As Minnesota marks a year since the state's first patient presented with COVID-19 symptoms, Gov. Tim Walz exemplified the increasing optimism that the worst is over and the end is in sight.
Announcing his administration's next phase in the vaccine rollout, the governor told Minnesotans: "The end is in sight. We can finish this, we can do it the right way."
Since the pandemic broke, Minnesota has seen 6,450 deaths, 25,500 hospitalizations, and just under 500,000 cases of COVID-19, but the release of effective vaccines by the likes of Pfizer, Moderna, and soon-to-be-released Johnson & Johnson has renewed hope that life can soon return to relative normality after a turbulent 2020.
Walz has released a plan that identifies the next in line to get COVID-19 vaccines once 70% of Minnesota's over-65 population has received at least one dose – a figure he expects will be achieved by the end of March based on current vaccine levels, not even taking into account that federal supplies are expected to accelerate in the coming weeks.
The priority list will cycle through a series of categories comprising vulnerable members of the under-65 population and essential workers, eventually reaching otherwise healthy, younger adults by the summer.
"'By this summer every Minnesotan gets a shot," Walz said.
He also expressed a hope that has been featured in the media this week, that the Minnesota State Fair could be able to go ahead in late August, after it was canceled last year.
"The thought of walking down Dan Patch Boulevard with a corndog in my hand is within our reach," Walz said (presumably he misspoke and meant Pronto Pup).
Walz said that when the pandemic started, "we understood we had to protect our seniors."
"90% of covid deaths come from 65 and over," he said. "It was not the flu, it was never the flu, it was always serious, it remains serious."
Walz noted that Minnesota has seen an acceleration in vaccine supplies since the start of February, and unlike the beginning of the vaccine rollout when Minnesota was receiving just 5 days notice about how many doses it would be getting, making logistical planning challenging, it is now receiving 3 weeks notice from the federal government.
And the state's current projections for when everyone could get vaccinated has the potential to happen even sooner, given that the federal government has secured even more doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in recent weeks.
What's more, the FDA has approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been found to be 66% effective at preventing moderate and severe infections of COVID-19, which is less than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that rank in the 90s.
However, as it only requires a single shot that can be stored in a refrigerator for months, the J&J vaccine could be useful for difficult-to-reach populations such as the homeless, or those who would find it challenging to attend two appointments for separate doses.