EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (WCCO) — The Muslim community is racing to vaccinate as many people as possible before Ramadan begins next week, which will draw people to worship in-person together.

On Thursday, 200 people received their shots at Masjid Al Tawba in Eden Prairie. Hundreds more got vaccinated at other mosques and will continue to do so through Monday. Ramadan begins early Tuesday.

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“People tend to fill the masjid. The masjid tends to host a lot activities and a lot of things that are important for the community,” said Imam Ahmed Abou. “So there’s a little bit of a time crunch for us to get as many Muslims as possible vaccinated to contribute to beating the curve.”

Imam Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, petitioned the Minnesota Department of Health and secured 7,600 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to speed up the immunization process across 18 mosques in St. Cloud, Rochester and the Twin Cities metro area.

Pfizer and Moderna require two shots 21 or 28 days apart, which could mean getting second doses in the middle of the holy month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims observe fasting.

Zaman said earmarking doses for the Muslim community is a step towards achieving equitable distribution of vaccines and that it will also help curb vaccine hesitancy. The program has been “overwhelmingly positive,” he said, serving Muslims and the greater community alike.

“Right now you have 2,300 people who have had shots in their arms and they’re out there talking to their friends and relatives,” he added. “That carries a lot more weight than sermons we’ve been giving now for several months, saying, ‘Listen—when it’s your turn, take it.’”

Health officials say this kind of outreach is the key to vaccinating underserved communities.

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“Clear guidance from trusted leaders is exactly the kind of thing we’re going to need to do a lot more of,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a COVID-19 briefing call on Thursday.

The department has set out to ensure vaccine distribution is equitable by working with local organizations, dubbed “community coordinators.” There is a special state vaccine equity director, too.

Still, white Minnesotans are disproportionately getting their shots compared to the rest of the population, according to state data. More than 3 million doses have been administered so far, with 43% of the Minnesotans and older having at least one shot.

But Malcolm said that the equitable distribution is improving, in part due to better data and information about vaccination rates. She also touted the FEMA-sponsored mass vaccination clinic that will begin immunizing targeted populations beginning next week, calling it a “major boost” to those efforts.

The site, which will be at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, will serve more than 100,000 people living in specific zip codes in the Twin Cities that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control identifies as more vulnerable to COVID-19, based on its “Social Vulnerability Index.” It’s a metric that measures factors like socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity and access to transportation to determine communities that “will most likely need support before, during and after a hazardous event.”

Right now vaccine demand still exceeds supply, but when the time comes that there is an excess of doses than people willing to take them, Malcolm said the state will “double down” on its outreach efforts.

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Gov. Tim Walz has set a goal of having 80% of the adult population vaccinated.

Caroline Cummings