By WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Health is informing hospitals, health care systems and other vaccination partners that they can now provide the COVID-19 vaccine to a broader group of Minnesotans, including those 65 years of age and older.

The MDH said Thursday that the new guidance is in response to significant changes in the federal guidance on vaccine distribution earlier this week.

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On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced two major changes to the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. States are now directed to vaccinate anyone 65 or older, as well as anyone below 65 with comorbidities, and the government will now release a large supply of doses it had been withholding to ensure that vaccinated Americans got their second dose.

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Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says the announcement is designed to “free” health care providers and vaccination partners to use all available doses as quickly as possible — while also ensuring that doses go to those who most need them.

“We are approaching the end of our earliest stages of the vaccine rollout, and we want to make sure all vaccines in the state are getting into arms as quickly as possible,” Malcolm said. “The state is making sure that providers have nothing holding them back from immediately using any and all vaccine they have available. That said, the reality is that we have far more Minnesotans wanting the vaccine than we have doses available from the federal government. We are ready to get more vaccines out very quickly, but now we desperately need the federal government to step up and provide us with more vaccine.”

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Dr. George Morris, the medical incident commander for CentraCare’s COVID-19 response team, says now’s the time to be ready for those who are eligible. Anticipating a high volume of phone calls from patients in that age group, Morris is urging people to just sit tight for now.

“The phone call is not the way to get in line. There’s not a line, there’s not a waiting list,” Morris said. “Please don’t call, we will call you. We have robust electronic medical records, in other words our health record, where we can find you. We know who meets those age criteria. We know who has those chronic diseases so we know who really is that most vulnerable.”

More information on the next phases of the vaccine rollout will be announced in the coming days. Meanwhile, Malcolm says the state is urging the federal government to provide more vaccine doses immediately.

“It will be some time before the federal government provides our state with enough vaccine to cover all those currently eligible,” Commissioner Malcolm said. “Minnesota is ready to move on anything we get immediately, and we are working quickly to create new options for Minnesotans to schedule a vaccine. We’ll be sharing more details on this in the next few days.”

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More vaccine information can be found here.