After a rocky start, the State of Minnesota is making changes to its COVID-19 vaccine pilot program.
The program, which launched two weeks ago to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older as well as educators, will see changes that include scaling back from the nine "pilot" vaccination sites and the addition of two permanent sites in Minneapolis and Duluth, which will open this week, Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday morning.
A third location in southern Minnesota will launch next week and potential additional locations may launch in the near future, the governor said.
These sites will serve Minnesotans 65 and older, while the Minneapolis location will serve educators and childcare professionals (more on this below).
There will be no new first dose appointments offered at the community sites in Blaine, Brooklyn Center, Fergus Falls, Marshall, Mountain Iron, North Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud, St. Paul or Thief River Falls. For the most part, those who need their second dose can still get them at the site they got their first one.
The reason for this cutback is because the Minnesota Department of Health is providing 35,000 doses this week to Minnesotans 65 and older this week by distributing an increased number at more than 100 clinics, pharmacies, hospitals and vaccination sites across the state.
“We have long planned for most Minnesotans to get vaccinated in the places they are used to getting their health care – places like smaller clinics, local hospitals, and community pharmacies,” Gov. Walz said in a statement. “But not everyone has a doctor or pharmacy they’re familiar with. That’s why we’ve built up a reliable network of different ways Minnesotans will be able to access the vaccine. After careful planning, we’re now activating that network to give Minnesotans options close to home.
“We still need more supply, but we have to work quickly with what we do have and be ready when the federal government ramps up to meet the demand. Today we’re expanding locations offering the vaccine and helping connect our seniors to shots where they live, so we can get to work crushing COVID-19 across Minnesota,” Walz added.
While the pilot vaccination sites have been reduced for now, the state is expected to open more of them in the future as the vaccine supply increases.
The state has also launched a vaccine locator map to connect people with vaccination opportunities. The website currently gives information to seniors, but it will be expanded as more people become eligible for the vaccine. You can find the website here.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) in an email to schools said starting this week, educators and child care staff can receive the COVID vaccine at a state site in Minneapolis, 35 county local public health clinics across the state, as well as pharmacies in Brainerd, St. Cloud and Rochester.
The appointments will be limited to 5,000 educators and child care staff at the Minneapolis location, 500 appointments at each of the pharmacy sites and 100 appointments each at the local public health clinics.
Last week, Twin Cities educators could sign up for a vaccination appointment, but the process led to a fiasco that saw some school districts missing out completely on appointments, and instead were put on a waitlist of 10,000-plus people.
But now, MDE says staff will be contacted via email or text directly if they're selected to sign up for vaccine appointments at the state site in Minneapolis or the community pharmacy sites. Staff will be picked from the waitlist educators signed up for last week.
"This means it is very unlikely that any staff who were not on the waitlist but filled out the survey will be contacted for an appointment this week. Staff who filled out the survey will be notified when additional vaccines become available," MDE said.