Vaccination details emerge
December 11, 2020
Minnesota is expected to receive 183,400 doses of CovidD-19 vaccines this month, and they’ll be targeted toward health care workers and the state’s most vulnerable residents, Gov. Tim Walz said this week.
The vaccines will come from two makers, Pfizer and Moderna, which are seeking emergency use from the federal Food and Drug Administration. The agency was expected to decide on Pfizer’s vaccine on Thursday and Moderna’s on Dec. 17.
That timeline could position Minnesota to start vaccinating people as early as next week. “It is happening. It is ready,” Walz said. “Here in Minnesota, we’re prepared for it.”
He cautioned that Minnesotans must still do all they can to stop the spread of the disease, including wearing masks in public gathering spaces, socially distancing and staying home if you don’t feel well.
The ramp-up of vaccine availability will be slow. Minnesota expects to receive fewer than 200,000 doses of vaccine during the first three weeks of rollout.
“We would expect, if everything goes according to plan, the week of Dec. 21, that people could start vaccinating. Perhaps an early Christmas present,” said Kris Ehresmann, the Minnesota Department of Health’s infectious disease and control director.
Federal officials are still determining the next tier of people to be eligible to receive a vaccine, but state health officials anticipate that essential workers — including teachers, first responders and others — will be next in line for the vaccine after health care workers and long-term care residents.
People with underlying health conditions who are more likely to become severely ill if they contract Covid-19 are likely to be the next priority for receiving the vaccine, along with people 65 and older.
Only after those groups have been offered the vaccine will the general public be able to be vaccinated. Ehresmann said that’s still several months away, likely next summer.
Walz and public health officials urged people to be patient, to remain vigilant, and to continue to practice protective measures like mask wearing and social distancing.
“We’re committed to getting the vaccine to every Minnesotan that wants one and should be vaccinated,” said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.
Health care workers working at hospitals and long-term care facilities, and residents of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, will be the first to get the vaccine.
That follows a recommendation made last week by a federal advisory group to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which voted during an emergency meeting to prioritize those two high-priority groups once a vaccine is approved.
Because supplies of the vaccines will be ramped up slowly, not all people in the first tier will be able to get vaccinated immediately. So state officials have divided that group into different levels of priority to receive the vaccine.
The highest priority is people who have direct contact with individuals who have Covid-19, including staff working in hospital Covid-19 units and at skilled nursing facilities, workers testing people for Covid-19 and people administering the vaccine.
The second priority is other health care personnel in hospitals, urgent care centers, and staff and residents in assisted living facilities.
What’s out there
Nationwide, as many as 40 million doses could be available by the end of December, with 5 million to 10 million available each week after that.
In the first week, Minnesota expects to receive 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. In the second and third weeks, the state expects to receive 94,800 and 41,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Minnesota’s allocation was determined on a per capita basis, Ehresmann said. She said it’s “likely” the state gets more doses in the first few weeks of rollout, but she said officials wanted to be conservative in their estimate because the numbers have been changing so rapidly.
The state expected to hear today about additional doses of vaccine it may receive from Pfizer.
The initial 183,400 doses will be administered to that many people. The vaccine developers are holding back the second dose until they are needed.
Both vaccines need to be kept cold, especially the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at a temperature of at least minus 70 degrees Celsius. That could pose a logistical issue for rural areas of the state, where cold storage space to protect the vaccine may be scarce. Pfizer says it has developed its own packaging designed to safely store the vaccine for a few weeks using dry ice.
Wheeling it out
State officials laid out a “hub and spoke” plan, in which the vaccines would be delivered directly to 25 hubs around the state, mostly large regional health centers that already have ultra-cold storage facilities in place.
From there, the vaccines will be distributed to 118 different “spokes” throughout the state, consisting mainly of smaller health care facilities.
Health care workers will be vaccinated at their workplace; likewise, long-term care residents will also receive the vaccination where they live.
Once the vaccines are distributed widely, they will be administered in a variety of settings, from pharmacies and doctors’ offices to health clinics and special vaccination sites.
Studies have shown that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95 percent effective after both doses are administered.
Ehresmann said it will take about six weeks from an initial vaccination for adults to develop resistance to Covid-19.
There is no mandate to take the vaccine. Walz said he’s asking Minnesotans to understand that the vaccine “not only protects you and your health, but protects your neighbor,” much like masking and social distancing.
Two doses are needed
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations require two doses within three to four weeks of each other. You must get both doses from the same developer. Public health officials are considering strategies to make sure people who get their first shot come back for their second on time.
Health officials estimate that it takes about six weeks from the time of your first dose before you achieve full immunity.
Other vaccines that are currently undergoing trials could do away with the two-dose requirement, including a vaccine candidate being developed by Johnson & Johnson. But it’s unclear if or when a one-dose vaccine will be approved.
The speed with which these vaccines have been developed — 11 months, compared to the several years it has taken vaccines in the past to be approved — has created a ripe environment for concerns over safety.
The process has been accelerated in part because the companies making the vaccines have recruited clinical trial participants more quickly, and have also shown federal regulators their vaccine testing data in real-time instead of after the testing process is complete.