MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The initial surge in demand for vaccines has diminished and more appointments are now available, which signals a slowdown in vaccinations and a need to increase outreach efforts, state officials say.

In the three weeks since the state expanded eligibility to anyone 16 or older, more 54% of Minnesota adults have at least one shot of the vaccine, according to state data.

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When the floodgates opened to the general adult population, appointments filled up fast and people were desperate, sometimes driving hours away to get their shots. Demand far exceeded supply.

“As frustrating as it was for them and for us with the lack of vaccine, that was really the easier part of the job,” said Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann in an interview Friday.

But now there are signs that some of that demand is leveling off as more people get their shots.  Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Thursday said her department is evaluating what’s driving some of the trends.

“We are beginning to see signals of some of that happening,” Malcolm said. “We’re trying to get as clear a picture as we can about what the issues are, what was driving that slowdown.”

She added that it’s not unexpected but the decline has happened “a little earlier than we had hoped.”

In the state’s quest to reach 80% vaccinated — the threshold for so-called herd immunity — state health officials say they are aware vaccine hesitancy is real, and now they’ll have to put in extra work to get more people inoculated.

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Concerns about reluctance to get a shot are felt nationwide. Overall there vaccinations dropped 11% week-over-week. In Kansas, more than 60 of the 105 counties in Kansas turned down vaccine shipments this week because they would go unused.

Ehresmann said that hasn’t happened in Minnesota, but doses have been reallocated from some rural parts of the state to more urban areas where there is more demand.

There’s also an effort to bring the vaccine to underserved communities hit hard by COVID-19 through mobile clinic buses.

“There are certain parts of the state where we may expect to see more hesitancy, just thinking about what we’ve seen with child immunizations,” she said. “At this point we want to make sure we are providing resources and working with those areas, but we don’t want to prejudge any area and say ‘oh they’re not going to get vaccinated.’”

But Ehresmann believes that the state has not yet hit the threshold beyond which it will be much more difficult—if not impossible—to get people to take the vaccine.

Right now, she said she thinks there are still plenty of Minnesotans who are willing, but so far have been patient waiting their turn or didn’t want to go to great, “heroic” lengths to get an appointment.

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“Not every person who has not yet received a vaccine is in that place because they have questions,” she said.

Caroline Cummings