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Walz to expand vaccine eligibility to Minnesotans over 16

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz will expand vaccine eligibility to all Minnesotans 16 and older next week following a promised increase in weekly doses from the federal government early next month, the governor’s spokesman said Thursday.

The expansion in eligibility will go into effect on Tuesday, and is expected to coincide with an increase in vaccine supplies from the federal government, according to the governor’s spokesman, Teddy Tschann. President Joe Biden has challenged states to make everyone eligible by May, and at least six, including North Dakota, will have reached that stage by March 29.

“We worked hard to vaccinate Minnesotans sooner than we originally projected, and we have made tremendous progress getting vaccines to Minnesotans who need them most,” Tschann said in a release Thursday. “Now, it’s time to get as many Minnesotans vaccinated as quickly as possible to end this pandemic.”

Infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said during a media briefing Thursday that the state’s weekly allotment is expected to jump to about 304,000 doses in coming weeks based on projections from the federal government. Ehresmann said Johnson & Johnson is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a large-scale manufacturing facility that will allow them to dramatically increase supply, but the number of allocated J&J doses will remain “erratic until they reach their stride.”

“It’s definitely an increase in terms of what we have been receiving and we are just eagerly waiting to get to that point,” Ehresmann said. “It may be that we’ll get that in our allocation next week or it may be in the first week of April, but we know that it is coming.”

As of Tuesday, more than 2.3 million doses of coronavirus vaccine had been administered in Minnesota, including to more than 878,000 people who have been fully inoculated. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that residents and staff of all long-term care facilities across Minnesota — which have been the hardest hit by the virus during the pandemic — will have had the chance to receive both doses of vaccine by the end of the week.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday reported 16 more people have died due to COVID-19 and 1,857 new cases — the highest daily case total since Jan. 9 when the state was coming down from a peak in case growth late last year. The state’s totals now stand at 6,814 deaths and 510,398 cases since the start of the pandemic.

State health officials have tied the uptick in cases across the state in recent weeks to the virus variant first detected in Britain, which officials say is up to 50% more contagious. Officials said more than 500 people across the state have been found to have been infected with the variant.

Malcolm said the potential for another spike in cases still exists despite the state’s vaccination progress and urged adherence to basic prevention measures as more doses become available.

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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