Where does Minnesota stand in the hunt for herd immunity?

A man rolls up his sleeve to be vaccinated
Florian Fautsch rolls up his sleeve to receive a COVID-19 vaccination shot. The Sauk Rapids resident drove out to Foley in Benton County with his wife of 56 years to get the vaccination at a mobile clinic held at First Presbyterian Church.
Paul Middlestaedt | MPR News

The rush to get the COVID-19 vaccine has slowed, leading some to worry if Minnesota can reach herd immunity at this rate. Obstacles to broader distribution of the vaccine remain, and some people are hesitant to receive it in the first place. Inequities in vaccination across different communities have also persisted.

How are public health experts working to reach underserved groups of people and geographies with the COVID-19 vaccine? What are their strategies for making vaccines more accessible? What conversations are they having with people who are reluctant to get the vaccine?

“We saw a really rapid increase in vaccinations for the last month or so, and now we’re seeing a slowing of that increase, and that gives me some concern,” Carrie Henning-Smith, the deputy director of the Rural Health Research Center at the University of Minnesota, told MPR News host Angela Davis.

That slowing may be the result of structural issues like access to vaccine sites and transportation, conflicts with work and scheduling complications. Henning-Smith said public health officials are working to answer the question: “What can we do to alleviate those barriers for people so that everyone can become fully vaccinated?”

Nneka Sederstrom, the chief health equity officer for Hennepin Healthcare, said that to overcome such barriers, there’s value in proceeding with a sense of purpose: “We have moved from focusing so much on speed to now being more intentional with equity.”

Sederstrom’s outreach work has not only made the COVID-19 vaccine more available to underserved communities but also helped convince some reluctant people to get their shots.

“We’ve seen a lot of hesitancy fall away, actually, when we’ve been really deliberate and intentional in partnering with specific community organizations or community leaders,” Sederstrom said.

Ultimately, according to Henning-Smith and Sederstrom, to protect everyone from COVID-19, it’s essential to connect with everyone who is hesitant to receive the vaccine.

“We have a lot of work to do to ensure that everyone sees their role in helping us move toward herd immunity, and that everyone sees this as a collective responsibility,” Henning-Smith said.

MPR News senior reporter Catharine Richert also stopped by the show to provide an update on the latest COVID-19 headlines, including new concerns around an increase in infections among children.

The bottom line when it comes to COVID-19 in Minnesota? “It is still here,” Richert said.

Guests:

  • Carrie Henning-Smith is the deputy director of the Rural Health Research Center at the University of Minnesota. 

  • Nneka Sederstrom is the chief health equity officer for Hennepin Healthcare.

  • Catharine Richert is a senior reporter with MPR News and has been covering COVID-19. 

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Correction (April 28, 2021): An earlier version of this post misidentified Carrie Henning-Smith's professional title. The post has been updated.

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