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'Getting vaccine into arms': State touts administration of 82,000 COVID-19 vaccines

Nora G. Hertel
St. Cloud Times

Minnesota has enough COVID-19 vaccine on hand now for all the health care workers prioritized in Phase 1A, the state's Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said on a Monday call with reporters. 

That includes the hospital workers caring for COVID-19-positive patients and patients who may have COVID-19. 

Not all the vaccine doses in Minnesota have been administered yet, Malcolm said. But so far more than 78,000 doses have been administered, plus vaccinations at federal facilities like the VA. 

RELATED: St. Cloud VA doles out first of 1,300 Moderna vaccines

"We do expect that pace will increase as more vaccine doses are produced and shipped to providers all over the state. And then redistributed into the trained hands of the people who are actually putting shots into people's arms," Malcolm said. "This is just a huge positive milestone in this new year."

Malcolm highlighted improvements in the slowing growth of new cases, and she also urged caution. The state added more than 10,000 cases and 181 COVID-19-related deaths since last Wednesday.

"If we let our guard down, COVID-19 finds a way to surge back in terrifying ways," Malcolm said. "We are starting to see that happen in other parts of the country."

RELATED: Stearns County adds 2 COVID-19 deaths. Tri-county area adds 213 cases

The test-positivity rate is back in a cautionary zone of 5.9%, and the impact of holiday gatherings on the infection rate remains to be seen, she said. 

Respiratory Therapist Kim Cordie receives the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine given to staff members Thursday Dec. 17, 2020, at St. Cloud Hospital.

Minnesota is in line with other similarly-sized states when it comes to administration of the new vaccines, Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the Minnesota Department of Health, said during the Monday call with reporters.

As of Dec. 30 the state had received 221,550 doses of the vaccine and administered more than 57,000, Ehresmann said. Another 75,800 arrived on New Year's Eve. 

The state has directed more than 85,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the federal Pharmacy Partnership Program, Ehresmann said. 

RELATED: What percent of St. Cloud-area deaths are COVID-19 related?

Three pharmacy chains — CVS, Walgreens and Thrifty White — are distributing the vaccines to skilled nursing facilities across the state, she said. They'll start with residents and workers at those facilities then move to assisted living facilities. Facilities that didn't opt into the federal program can get access to state vaccines through other pharmacies or local health agencies. 

"This multi-pronged approach helped build a broad base of vaccinators, which helps ensure residents and staff receive protection from COVID as quickly and efficiently as possible," Ehresmann said. "A total of 369 skilled nursing facilities are expected to receive vaccine in the next few weeks."

A nurse holds a vial after administering the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, in the Community Living Center at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System.

RELATED: Vaccine hesitant? How experts are tackling skepticism of COVID-19 vaccine

Phase 1A of the state's vaccine rollout has three tiers within it. Residents living in skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes are priority one, along with front-line health care personnel including hospital staff and COVID-19 testers and vaccinators. The second priority will be assisted living residents and other health care workers such as those working at urgent care or dialysis centers. Third priority includes all remaining health care providers who cannot telework and residents of intermediate care facilities or residential care facilities that serve older adults and adults with disabilities. 

RELATED:Vaccine lightens pandemic's gloom for St. Cloud VA's frontline workers

It will take the majority of January to get through all of Phase 1A, Malcolm said. Phase 1B will prioritize teachers and other essential workers, and those details are still forthcoming.

There will be some overlap of the phases as health care workers and residents get their second doses, essential workers may be getting their first doses, Ehresmann said.

Less than a month ago, there were no COVID-19 vaccines approved in the U.S., Ehresmann said. Since then more than 82,000 doses have been administered in Minnesota. 

"I think that's really significant," Ehresmann said. "And it's a tribute to the work of our partners in getting vaccine into arms."

Nora Hertel is the government watchdog reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-255-8746 or nhertel@stcloudtimes.com. Follow her on Twitter @nghertel.