MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota could soon open up vaccinations to more people when a majority — but not all — of seniors have received their shots, Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday. State officials could release details on the next priority group as early as the end of the week.

Walz said Minnesota could make more residents eligible for vaccine once the “bulk” of the 65 and older population is vaccinated. Nearly 360,000 seniors have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the latest state data. That’s about 40% of the total 65+ population.

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The governor told reporters that if 60% to 70% of that group is vaccinated, priority populations could expand.

“We want [seniors] to get it,” Walz said Tuesday. “But we can’t hold up giving it to others, while we’re waiting for somebody to decide if they’re going to take it. And so that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”

This comes as Pfizer and Moderna pledged to Congress on Tuesday a boost in production that could yield 220 million more doses to Americans by the end of March.

That increase would be on top of a looming Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the FDA is expected to approve for emergency use. Walz said the White House told him 20 million doses are guaranteed when that happens.

“While 20 million isn’t massive, 20 million by the end of March with Johnson & Johnson, that’s like 40 million of the other,” Walz said. “So this is actually a pretty big deal.”

Minnesota’s share of all three vaccines could bring four million more doses to the state next month, or vaccine for more than two million Minnesotans. Moderna and Pfizer require two doses, while Johnson & Johnson is a single shot.

The details of a next phase for vaccinations could come as early as the end of this week or early next week, Walz said.

Republicans, who have been critical of Walz’s roll-out of the vaccine, said that seniors should complete their vaccines before eligibility is expanded.

“While I’m happy to see Minnesota making strides in its vaccination efforts, three weeks ago I said we need to put seniors first before we move on to vaccinating other groups,” Sen. Karin Housely, R-Stillwater, said in a statement. “So far, only 41% of those receiving these doses are seniors, and only 28% of those fully vaccinated with two doses are seniors 65+. These numbers are embarrassing for a Governor that claims to be prioritizing seniors.”

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The AARP of Minnesota, in a letter to the governor dated Tuesday, said the rollout has left too many seniors “feeling frustrated and confused.” The letter included comments from these Minnesotans who’ve felt defeated by the process.

Walz working with community groups to educate communities of color on vaccine, ensure access

Also on Tuesday, Walz announced a partnership with 30 organizations to connect Minnesotans of color and immigrants to vaccine access and information in their languages and communities.

This follows the launch of the state’s Vaccine Connector website, where Minnesotans sign up and be notified when vaccine is available to them. Health care workers, long-term care residents, seniors and child care providers and educators are eligible under state guidelines.

“Many of our communities get left behind. That was true prior to COVID and it’s true during COVID,” Walz said at a Tuesday news conference at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis. “These are trusted organizations in communities that understand where people are at and they meet those people where they’re at.”

Walz and state health officials have said they want the distribution process to be equitable across race and ethnicity. Right now, the state has not publicly shared data on distribution for those demographics, citing challenges to tracking that information.

But Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Tuesday they have made progress, and  that information could be coming within the week.

“We are making some real progress just over the last couple of weeks and being able to get larger amounts of de-identified data, so it’s not personally identifiable, but pooling data from all kinds of sources so that we can show a more complete picture,” Malcolm said.

Walz said the process requires “all hands on deck,” which is why he coordinating with local organizations to help with outreach.

“It’s going to take a whole village to combat this virus,” said Alfred Babington-Johnson, president of the Stairstep Foundation. “Particularly for the African American community, it’s not simply a matter of access. There’s mistrust and skepticism.”

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You can sign up on the Vaccine Connector website here. Other languages are available.

Caroline Cummings