Vote Vaccine

Visitors to the Rice County Government Services Building are asked to queue up either to vote in a township election or to get a COVID-19 vaccine. While few have come to vote, interest in vaccines, which have been in short supply, is high. (Suzanne Rook/southernminn.com)

About one in 10 southern Minnesotans has received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

County public health directors say the vaccination rollout has been going slower than they’d like because they’re receiving a limited number of doses, but they’re hopeful it’ll begin to pick up in the coming weeks.

“Vaccines continue to trickle in... We just need the vaccines,” said Amy Caron, the public health director for Steele and Dodge counties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the vaccine doses to the states, who then allocate it to different providers, including health care providers and county public health departments to administer to residents. As of Monday, 65 million vaccine doses have been administered in the United States: 13.4% of the U.S. population has received one dose and 6% of the population has received two doses, according to the CDC.

Statewide, 13.7% of Minnesotans have received one vaccine dose and 6.5% percent have received two doses, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s vaccine data. More than 41% of Minnesotans older than 65 have received at least one dose.

Rice County is at 13.3% of its residents receiving the first dose, Steele County is at 11.3% and Waseca County is at 12.3% as of Sunday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Rice County Public Health Director Purfeerst said ideally, they’d like to be at 100% and Le Suer-Waseca Public Health Sarah Berry said she “absolutely” hopes vaccinations pick up.

“We want people vaccinated as quickly as possible as we start going back to our normal, but I think our world will be forever changed,” Berry said.

Caron said she thought they’d be getting more vaccine doses from the federal government by now and she knows that will happen, but she’d like to see it happen more quickly. The state has started to distribute more vaccines to a wider variety of providers, Purfeerst said, but it “certainly doesn’t meet the demand we’re seeing.”

Caron said her department is hearing the most from residents older than 65 about vaccines. She understands residents’ frustration when they hear about a place offering vaccine appointments and then all the appointments are taken when they try to get one.

Local Public Health departments are tasked with vaccinating the priority groups set by the Minnesota Department of Health and the state decides how many doses each county’s Public Health Department receives based on the priority groups and equity. Sometimes counties like Steele and Dodge finish vaccinating a group more quickly than more populated counties and then they’ll receive fewer doses in the next shipment so that the other counties can catch up, Caron explained. She noted that they’ve seen an uptick in the number of people receiving the vaccine when offered among the priority groups as people learn more about it and see that it’s safe.

Rice, Steele and Waseca counties are in the middle of vaccinating child care providers and educators. Caron said Steele County needs about 300-400 more doses to complete the vaccinations in that group and then hopes to begin administering vaccines to residents older than 65 in the coming weeks.

“We’re just as anxious as everyone else,” Caron said.

Waseca County has done well at allocating its vaccines and anticipates completing vaccinations for the 1A priority group, school staff and child care providers by the end of this week. Waseca has been receiving an average of 100 first doses each week. Berry said she anticipates they’ll begin vaccinating residents older than 65 “very soon.”

Purfeerst predicts that once Rice County begins vaccinating the 65-plus population, it’ll likely still be months before they complete that age group and can open up the vaccinations to the general public.

While residents wait for the vaccine, public health directors say residents should continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by washing their hands, social distancing and wearing a mask. Berry noted that people have to be healthy to receive the vaccine and it’s important now to keep practicing good hygiene to keep from catching something when it’s their turn to get the vaccine.

On top of a slow rollout, the counties didn’t receive their vaccine doses last week due to weather delays. Rice County Public Health will be administering 900 doses this week after not receiving its doses last week. Steele County received its delayed 100 doses on Tuesday and staff plan to do a larger vaccine clinic this week with those doses, in addition to receiving 300 doses this week. Waseca County will administer 300 first doses this week after last week’s delay.

Statewide, 45,000 doses were delayed last week by weather.

“We hope to be back to normal operations and scheduling in the next week or so,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said on Monday.

The public health directors recommend that residents sign up for the state’s new Vaccine Connector to be notified when it’s their group’s turn to receive the vaccine. Residents can sign up for the Vaccine Connector at mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/connector or by calling the Vaccine Connector hotline at 1-833-431-2053.

“We continue to encourage people that when it’s their turn, be ready to be vaccinated and be patient,” Purfeerst said.

Minnesota Public Radio News contributed to this report. Reach Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke at 507-444-2371. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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