ST. PAUL — Access to the vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, will not be extended to wider swaths of Minnesota's population until 70% of older adults in the state have been inoculated, Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday, Feb. 25.

Minnesota could hit that target and expand eligibility for the vaccine as early as April, according to the governor's office. Already, roughly 43% of Minnesotans ages 65 and older have been vaccinated.

Once the 70% benchmark is met, Minnesotans with certain underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19, or who work in settings with a high risk of disease exposure, would be next in line to receive the vaccine.

The Walz administration's detailing of next steps in the state vaccine campaign Thursday came a little more than one month after it first expanded vaccine eligibility for older residents. Teachers, school employees and child care workers were granted access to the vaccine around the same time.

Before that, only health care workers and nursing home residents were actively being vaccinated, though many doses are still being conserved for them both.

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By early spring, the governor's office said Thursday, Minnesotans with chronic heart and lung conditions, as well as conditions including sickle cell disease and Down syndrome, should be able to get the vaccine. People actively being treated for cancer or who are immunocompromised as a result of organ transplants, in addition to food processing and industrial plant workers, will also be eligible at that time.

Speaking on an online broadcast Thursday, State Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said food processing plants are being targeted bearing in mind that, nationwide, they were the sites of some of "largest and most severe" outbreaks of COVID-19 in the coronavirus pandemic. They also predominantly employ Black people and people of color, she said, all of whom have faced disproportionately high risks of COVID-19 exposure and infection.

"As well, this sector is incredibly important, as we are one of the major producer states," Malcolm said. "The food supply of the entire nation relies on us. So there are many reasons to prioritize this group."

Eligibility will continue to expand based on medical and workplace considerations, with all Minnesotans expected to have access to the vaccine by this summer. The governor's office cautioned, however, that its projected timeline is still subject to change.

Walz said on Thursday's web broadcast that even without future increases in vaccine supplies, and the pending availability of the single-shot version of the vaccine developed by drug maker Johnson & Johnson, Minnesota is on track to meet its vaccination goals for older residents by the end of March. Vaccines being administered at the moment, which were developed by Pfizer and Moderna, require two doses in order to be fully effective.

The day where Minnesotans can once again walk the state fairgrounds, corndog in hand, Walz said, may not be far off.

"That is within our reach if we do things right," he said.

Following are the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations as of Thursday, Feb. 25. Because all data is preliminary, some numbers and totals may change from one day to the next.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 996
  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE OF NEW CASES PER 100,000 PEOPLE: 13.4% (As of Tuesday, Feb. 16.)

  • TOTAL CASES: 481,831
  • TOTAL RECOVERED: 468,498

  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE TEST POSITIVITY RATE: 3.7% (As of Tuesday, Feb. 16.)

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • NEW HOSPITALIZATIONS: 2

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 265

  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 25,625

  • DEATHS, NEWLY REPORTED: 9

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 6,450

Vaccinations

  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED: 783,214 people, or 14.1% of the state population

  • COMPLETED SERIES (2 DOSES): 386,256 people, or 6.9% of the state population

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