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Governor: More Minnesotans eligible for coronavirus vaccine

By MOHAMED IBRAHIM Associated Press/Report for America

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota is expanding eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine after reaching its goal of inoculating at least 70% of people ages 65 and older, Gov. Tim Walz announced Tuesday.

The state will expand eligibility to the next two phases of Minnesotans at once starting Wednesday to include people with underlying health conditions and those at a risk of workplace exposure, including about 45,000 people who work at food processing plants.

“Now is not the time to let down our guard on the basic things; Keep the masks on, keep social distancing, start planning. I think it’s appropriate that you’ll be able to do an awful lot of stuff come this summer,” Walz said during a news conference. “This is a good day, Minnesotans. We’re ready to expand to the next group of folks.”

Walz said the state expects to have 70% of seniors vaccinated by Wednesday, weeks before an earlier projection of the end of March. The governor said he feels a “real sense of urgency” to ramp up vaccination efforts to diminish the impact of coronavirus variants spreading across Minnesota.

The next two phases include about 1.8 million people.

Providers are encouraged to prioritize vaccinating individuals with underlying health conditions who would be most at-risk of hospitalization or death due to the virus. They include Minnesotans with sickle cell disease or Down syndrome, those in cancer treatment or who are immunocompromised from organ transplant, and those who have oxygen-dependent chronic lung and heart conditions. Food processing plant workers and people with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe illness are also included.

Rodolfo Gutierrez, executive director of Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research, said during the news conference that many meatpacking plant workers are undocumented, and many don’t get tested — or tell their employers when they are infected — for fear of losing their jobs.

“They are not necessarily in regular housing, they are not necessarily in identifiable places, so we need to really find them where they are,” he said. “It’s very important to bring them to be vaccinated and help this important industry in Minnesota to be better.”

Also newly eligible are Minnesotans age 45 years and older with one or more underlying medical conditions as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; individuals 16 years and older with two or more underlying medical conditions; and Minnesotans age 50 years and older in multi-generational housing.

Front-line workers in food service, food retail, food production, manufacturing, agriculture and public transit, among others sectors, are also now eligible.

As of Monday, 1,655,056 doses of the vaccine had been administered statewide, which includes 592,134 Minnesotans who have received both doses. Nearly 1.9 million doses have been shipped to the state as of Tuesday.

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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.