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Minnesota gets its first doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

MINNEAPOLIS  — Minnesota state and health officials on Wednesday celebrated the arrival of the first shipments of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, saying it will help speed up the pace of vaccinations and a return to normal in the state.

Gov. Tim Walz visited an M Health Fairview warehouse in Minneapolis that was one of several sites across the state to receive a share of the state’s initial 45,200 doses of the new vaccine. Minnesota won’t get any more for the next week or two, but the governor expects deliveries of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to rise in the meantime.

“This is a good vaccine. It’s 100% effective against death, it’s almost that against hospitalizations or severe disease,” Walz said at a news conference after his tour. “I’ll tell Minnesotans, when you get the opportunity, roll up your sleeves and take the vaccine.”

The federal government authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use on Saturday. It has the advantage of working with just one dose instead of two. Data is mixed on the efficiency of all the vaccines being used around the world. Health authorities are advising people to take whatever vaccine they can get first.

Minnesotans currently eligible for coronavirus vaccinations include those 65 and older, plus teachers, medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday released detailed guidance on which groups will become eligible and when after the state reaches the goal of vaccinating 70% of the 65-and-over population. It’s a matrix based on age, specific high-risk health conditions, and different tiers of essential workers.

“Frankly, we are highly confident we’re going to hit that 70% probably before the end of the month,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told a state Senate aging committee earlier Wednesday. Department figures show 54% of the state’s 65+ population had received at least a first shot of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including 23% getting both doses.

The committee chair, Republican Sen. Sen. Karin Housley, of St. Mary’s Point, pressed the Democratic governor’s administration to use a strictly age-based system for determining eligibility, noting that 98% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been people 50 or older.

Malcolm responded that they’ve “agreed to disagree,” saying one goal of the state’s vaccine program is to help critical sectors return to as close to normal as possible, including in-person learning in schools. She said 70% of all the state’s doses are now going to the 65-and-older population.

The health department on Wednesday reported 17 new COVID-19 deaths and 788 new coronavirus cases to raise the state’s toll to 6,507 cases and 486,434 cases.