Getting as many Minnesotans vaccinated as fast as possible has been hampered by a limited supply of doses from the federal government, which is why some medical experts are recommending delaying the second dose of the vaccine.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, is among the experts who believe delaying the second dose would help get more of the vulnerable populations vaccinated in a timely manner.
There are three approved vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca – and all of them require two doses in order to achieve full vaccine efficacy. A fourth, from Johnson & Johnson, only requires one dose but has not yet been approved.
Nonetheless, Osterholm says the first dose provides enough protection in the short term to warrant delaying the second doses and using them to provide a first dose to more of Minnesota's 65-and-old population.
"I think the data will support that that actually is a very effective way to go," Osterholm told the Minnesota House Health Finance and Policy Committee.
Osterholm said the first dose provides "remarkable protection" that may even improve as time goes on. He noted that a recent study involving the AstraZeneca vaccine showed that a single dose provided the same level of protection for the first 90 days, in addition to maintaining the level of antibodies for at least 90 days.
"We have every reason to believe that as time goes on that it may get even more effective," said Osterholm.
Through Feb. 2, Minnesota has given 475,200 people at least one dose of the vaccine. Of those, 177,632 were people aged 65 or older.
Osterholm, who serves on the Biden Administration's COVID-19 advisory committee, said new variants, namely the B.1.1.7 strain first confirmed in the United Kingdom, poses a major threat to America in the coming months.
"I think the darkest days of the pandemic are yet to come," he said.
Osterholm has consistently said he expects the strain to become dominant and wreak havoc in the United States sometime in the next six to 14 weeks, which is why providing one dose versus two doses would give more vulnerable populations in Minnesota a chance to have some level of protection versus none if the virus surges again.