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Seniors Still Frustrated, Waiting For Vaccines As Minnesota Looks To Next Phase

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Kelsey LaValle has been trying to help her 70-year-old aunt get the COVID-19 vaccine. She says she's signed up for every list to be notified but so far, no luck.

"She just is one that really should be getting the vaccine," LaValle, 33, said of her aunt Donna, citing her age and asthma.

LaValle said she wished the state went forward with "one vaccine dose for all" to speed up the process, an idea endorsed by University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm. Pfizer and Moderna require two doses. The idea behind delaying the second dose is to give vulnerable populations some protection more rapidly.

State officials say 43% of Minnesota seniors have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Thursday. Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday announced the state's full vaccine timeline, which anticipates most seniors will be inoculated by the end of March. When 70% have had one dose, the state will expand vaccinations to other populations.

"I do think that it can be difficult to get accurate information or if you do find the accurate information, the spots are all gone. So someone who's older that might not be as tech savvy, it's going to be a really difficult time for them," LaValle said.

Many viewers 65 and older or their loved ones reached out to WCCO with similar frustrations that the process isn't streamlined. For some, they cannot find an appointment at all or would have to drive a great distance to one. Others say providers are not offering vaccines to anyone below 70 or 75 just yet.

State officials and health care leaders say a vaccine supply and demand imbalance is to blame. Even though Minnesota has seen an increase in vaccine in the last month and the nearly two months since inoculations began, there are still not enough doses available to cover the 900,000 people who fall into the 65+ category.

This means some providers are having to prioritize within that group, starting with 75 and above, a population health professionals say is at the highest risk for hospitalization and death. Minnesota seniors account for 90% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, Walz said.

"What we've done, as healthcare systems across the community, is try to calibrate and ensure that those at highest risk get the vaccine first," said Andrea Walsh, president and CEO of HealthPartners, during the governor's Thursday news conference. "We haven't had enough vaccine to do 65. If I'm recalling right, for those 75 and up, the likelihood of hospitalization and death is five to six times greater than it is for 65."

Abe Jacob, the chief quality officer at M Health Fairview, echoed those comments, saying he believes they will expand to anyone older than 65 in the next couple of weeks because there is an anticipated boost in supply.

"[Minnesotans who are 75 and older] deserve to be first in line. We want to make sure we open up all the lanes to get them up to the front," he said.

The state expects 338,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine in March, pending approval from the FDA. That is a single-dose drug. Pfizer and Moderna have also pledged to scale up production.

Walz said state officials did not account for these factors in their vaccine timeline revealed Thursday, which means more populations could be eligible sooner.


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