Minnesota to throw open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility

A close up of a vial and needle.
Registered nurse Darcey McCampbell draws a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 21 at a vaccination site at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Beginning next week, Minnesotans 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Minnesota will expand COVID-19 vaccination to all state residents 16 and older starting Tuesday, according to a spokesperson for Gov. Tim Walz.

The expansion marks a major milestone in Minnesota's vaccine strategy. Currently, only people with certain underlying health conditions, as well as those with jobs or living arrangements that put them at highest risk of getting COVID-19 have been eligible for vaccination.

Walz plans to outline the changes and the reasons he’s going this direction during a speech at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

In a regular call with reporters ahead of the announcement Thursday afternoon, Health Department leaders said they are expecting a major expansion of vaccine doses by early April. It would be enough to give 300,000 Minnesotans their first shot and an additional 200,000 doses to provide people with a second shot.

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Even with a surge in doses and relaxed eligibility requirements, health officials said the state will continue to focus their vaccine efforts toward the most vulnerable Minnesotans, in the ways they allocate vaccine supply statewide, and in their communications with providers.

“The bottom-line point is that even as eligibility expands, there will continue to be this real focus of immunizing for impact and from an impact perspective,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters during the briefing. She did not disclose details of the new policy on the call, but alluded to an expansion on the horizon.

She said that people will have to keep their expectations in check.

"That healthy 20-year-old might be told, 'Yes you're eligible, but we don't have a vaccine for you this week. We'll let you know when we do,'" Malcolm said.

Malcolm said any new guidance Walz releases will be intended to give providers flexibility.

“Just not slow down and not wait for the next eligibility category, but be a little more flexible and able to meet the specific conditions in their community,” she said.

In some places, there has been more supply than demand, meaning pharmacies and other providers have had to decide how to use up doses. In other parts of the state, more eligible people are seeking out their shots than supply allows.

Minnesota’s stance mirrors that of other states that have made the vaccine available to children older than 16 and all adults.

President Joe Biden has said states should strive to provide the vaccine to anyone who wants it by May 1.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.