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Minnesota's vaccine progress being hit by federal delays, leaders say

The Biden-Harris COVID prevention plan will be released Thursday.

Governor Tim Walz has received a request from a Senate Republican leader to transition COVID-19 testing sites into locations for vaccines to speed up the vaccination process. 

The problem, however, according to University of Minnesota infectious disease expert, Dr. Michael Osterholm, is that Minnesota simply hasn't received enough vaccine doses to speed things up. 

"The problem we have right now is not about wanting people to get the vaccine, it's about having the vaccine," Osterholm said Wednesday on WCCO Radio. 

"There's some confusion about the fact that there appears to be a number of unused doses, but those are doses that have been reserved for long-term care facilities and our healthcare settings that just haven't been used yet." 

This week, the Minnesota Department of Health launched a public dashboard to view vaccine progress. Through Jan. 10, the state has so far been promised 558,300 vaccine doses from the CDC, of which 487,325 doses have been distributed.

Of the doses distributed, 383,625 have been shipped to hospitals and other healthcare facilities around the state, while 103,700 have been sent to the federal long-term care vaccination program, which sees pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens, Thrifty White) administer that allotment to staff and residents of long-term care. 

And those are just the number of doses that have been distributed. Just 32 percent of doses have actually been administered.

For full vaccine efficacy, two shots are required 3-4 weeks apart, depending on whether it's the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine. 

Through Jan. 10, there have been 146,901 Minnesotans to have received at least one dose, while 7,928 Minnesotans have completed both doses. 

So while Senate President Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) urged Walz to transition testing sites into vaccine clinics, the doses Minnesota is currently in possession of have yet to be fully used. Why haven't all been used? It's a federal issue, according to Osterholm.

"Once we get more resources from the federal government, [the Minnesota Department of Health] in turn will be able to bring vaccinators in, working with the community ... healthcare facilities, private organizations, even in some cases the National Guard to help set up these larger clinics. That's going to happen, it's just that we need vaccine and we need resources," said Osterholm.

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Federal authorities on Tuesday revamped the vaccine guidance, advising states to vaccinate everyone over the age of 65 and people with underlying health conditions as young as 20 years old. 

Speaking Tuesday, Gov. Walz said Minnesota has 1.6 million residents that fit the federal qualification to receive the vaccine, then noted that Minnesota is set to receive just 60,000 doses next week. 

"I’ll let you do the math," Walz said. 

According to Osterholm, who is on President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus task force, the Biden-Harris Administration plans to detail its COVID-19 prevention plan on Thursday, which Osterholm says will be much more transparent. 

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