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Walz: New COVID vaccine 'accelerates' state's rollout timeline

The governor said Wednesday the state will "significantly beat" its goal to vaccinate 70% of people 65 and older by the end of March.

It's looking like some Minnesotans will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier than Gov. Tim Walz originally laid out in the timeline he released in late February.

"There's every reason for us to be very, very optimistic," Walz said Wednesday at Fairview in Minneapolis, which he visited to mark the arrival of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Minnesota.

The arrival of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which joins the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, in Minnesota as well as vaccine manufacturers' plans to ramp up production "obviously accelerates our timeline," Walz told reporters, citing President Joe Biden's announcement there will be enough doses for every adult to get one by the end of May. (Walz's original timeline did not take the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine into account.)

The governor believes the state will "significantly beat" its goal of giving at least one dose to 70% of Minnesotans 65 and older by the end of March. The state has said the next group in line to get the vaccine will be eligible once they reach that 70% mark.

As of March 1, more than 54% of Minnesotans 65 and older had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, the Minnesota Department of Health says. In total, 928,963 Minnesotans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, including 56% of K-12 educators and child care workers.

Thus far, the state has prioritized vaccinating older Minnesotans, healthcare workers, educators, child care providers and first responders. The next group (phase 1b-tier 2) in line for the vaccine includes people with specific underlying conditions, those at high risk for severe disease and people who work in food processing (see a breakdown of the vaccine rollout plan here). 

That next group is about 72,000 people, FOX 9 says.

The news of a likely faster vaccine rollout comes as Minnesota nears the one-year mark of its first COVID-19 case on Saturday, March 6. Walz remembered back to a year ago when experts said there "would more than likely be a vaccine," noting it wasn't a sure thing.

Now, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help Minnesota provide immunity "and get is one step closer to ending this pandemic," the governor said in a statement.

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The state is getting 45,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, while other vaccine manufacturers are ramping up production. It looks like Minnesota could get well over 200,000 vaccine doses per week in the near future, Walz told reporters.

Minnesota's vaccine rollout is among the best in the nation. Walz says as of Wednesday the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Minnesota third among states for the percentage of doses received that have been administered.

With more vaccines coming into Minnesota and people getting vaccinated, as well as other indicators looking up, Walz said it's time to "think about what the next steps are" in terms of loosening COVID restrictions. 

However, he said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging states to not move too quickly due to the COVID variants.  

That being said, Walz again expressed optimism that the Minnesota State Fair and other events would be able to happen this summer, at least in some capacity.

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