Type 1 diabetes and some high-risk people with rare diseases like ALS and cystic fibrosis were inducted into the next phase of the state’s priority groups for COVID-19 vaccines by health officials on Tuesday.
These illnesses were not originally considered when the qualifying illnesses were announced last Thursday. Minnesota health commissioner Jan Malcolm said the changes were made to align the state with federal guidelines.
The state also added court system workers and some public health entities that were not included in previous stages, as it published seven pages of detailed instructions on who qualifies for COVID-19 shots after 70% of the over 65-year-olds from the EU were vaccinated at the end of the month.
State health officials also announced that 45,200 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be shipped to Minnesota this week. The vaccine is believed to be easier to use as it does not require extreme cold storage and only requires one dose to be effective.
“Future assignments from Johnson & Johnson are uncertain for the next week or so, but we are optimistic about the long-term outlook,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of state infectious diseases.
The allocation of COVID-19 doses to Walmart, Sam’s Club and Thrifty White pharmacies is changing to better meet demand. These vials are mailed by the federal government and are not part of the state’s allocation.
The change comes after reports that pharmacies in northwest Minnesota had many vacant appointments while others were fully booked.
“There are some locations where uptake has slowed, so vaccines are being diverted to other parts of the state where there is greater demand,” Ehresmann said. “We’re working to make up for that.”
The type 1 diabetes community welcomed the change in guidelines and brought Minnesota in line with 22 other states. Minnesota had previously said that type 2 diabetes would qualify.
“The lawyers are very excited. It’s time,” said Nicole Smith-Holt, who became a lawyer after her son Alec died because he couldn’t afford his insulin.
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“Within the Type 1 community, we’ve heard of people who have gotten COVID-19 and have some really serious medical complications,” she said. “Now it’s been a priority, and hopefully it will reduce the chances of someone dying or having serious complications.”
There are 7,000 diseases that the Food and Drug Administration believes are rare, as fewer than 200,000 people are affected at a time. Taken together, 8 to 10% of the population are affected by rare diseases.
“Many of the rare diseases can make them immunocompromised or susceptible to infection, and yet there isn’t a lot of formal data and protocols,” said Erica Barnes, administrator of the Chloe Barnes Rare Disease Advisory Board, Minnesota advises officials.
Research on rare diseases can often be limited, and there isn’t much published information on whether some are considered COVID-19 risk factors, such as sickle cell disease, Down syndrome, cancer, heart disease, and obesity.
State health officials said they will leave it to doctors to decide who is most at risk.
“We are ready to give flexibility to the clinicians there,” said Malcolm.
Among the key workers, vaccine access will initially be expanded to include food processing plant workers, which have experienced some of the largest coronavirus outbreaks.
However, eligibility is transferred to other groups that interact with the public, including childcare unlicensed by law, including family, friends and neighbors. Foster parents are also quality.
Eventually, vaccines will be expanded to sectors that help keep the economy moving, including finance, energy, housing, law, and wastewater treatment.
However, people employed in key industries shouldn’t get vaccinated if they mainly work from home, until the general public is eligible in the summer, the health department said.
State health officials reported Tuesday that 53% of Minnesota seniors received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
They hope to get that number to 70% by the end of the month to move on to the next phases of vaccination, which are expected to start in April and last through May.
A total of 908,590 Minnesotans received at least one dose, with 472,789 receiving the two recommended doses for the vaccines used.
Another 443 new confirmed cases were announced Tuesday for a pandemic totaling 485,655. Testing volume was low, with 10,915 reports to state health officials on Monday, due to lower testing volume on the weekends.
Four other people have died from coronavirus complications.
The number of deaths related to COVID-19 has decreased significantly in Minnesota. 284 deaths were reported in February, a 68% decrease from 877 deaths in January.
December saw the highest number of deaths, at 1,729, representing 27% of the 6,490 deaths since the pandemic was first discovered in the state a year ago.
Roughly 63% of the deaths were among residents of long-term care facilities, including one that was reported Tuesday.
The number of Minnesotans hospitalized with COVID-19 complications remained at 243 on Monday, but there were 57 patients in intensive care units, up from nine by a day.
Of approximately 10,000 patients screened by the Minnesota Department of Health during the course of the pandemic, 76% of those enrolled had at least one underlying health condition, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic lung disease.
97% of those over 75 years of age had at least one underlying disease, and 36% of those under 18 years of age.
Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192