COVID-19 vaccination - Kay Cooper

Kay Cooper receives her first COVID-19 vaccination Feb. 5 at Guidepoint Pharmacy in Aitkin.

More than 35,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine will be reserved this week for Minnesotans aged 65 and older after the state received a boost in supplies from the federal government, state health officials announced last week.

The state opened permanent large-scale community vaccination sites in Minneapolis and Duluth as well, and the remaining doses went to hospitals, clinics and health care providers around the state.

This included Guidepoint Pharmacy in Aitkin, as well as Riverwood Healthcare and Cuyuna Regional Medical Center.

The state pivoted its two-week pilot of a community vaccination clinic program from a first-come, first-served model to a lottery system when clogged phones and a crashed registration website led to frustration among seniors trying to secure spots during the program’s first week. The state began the program at 10 sites across Minnesota after the federal government lowered the recommended age for vaccinations to 65 and up, and added educators and child care staff to the eligibility list.

The change in the state’s vaccination strategy also comes after an increase in weekly doses from the federal government from around 65,000 per week to around 79,000.

The original pilot sites are not scheduling any new appointments but will open again on Feb. 11 to administer scheduled second doses to individuals who received their first dose at those sites. More than 220,000 individuals who pre-registered for a dose at those sites last week will be selected for a spot at either the sites in Minneapolis and Duluth, or a future site.

In Aitkin County, short notice on available vaccines continued. While the three providers continue to receive some doses each week, it is often with less hours notice and in limited supply.

Guidepoint received 100 doses late last week, and held two days of vaccinations over Feb. 5-6.

“It went really, really well,” said Matt Doucette, the pharmacist at Guidepoint. “Everyone was very happy and excited to receive it.”

Doucette said Guidepoint expected to get another 100 doses this week, what he called a “very limited” amount. Guidepoint has started a wait list on its Facebook page. Doucette said people should sign up there versus calling the pharmacy.

Erin Melz, the Aitkin County public health supervisor, said the situation remains fluid.

“It is our hope that we are able to receive a supply of vaccine on a weekly basis,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges is in the planning. With so many changes and details unique to the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine, it’s difficult to plan ahead.

“If we can’t plan ahead because we don’t know our focus population, how much vaccine we are getting or when it’s coming, it’s hard to message the details,” she added. “Living in a small, rural community, we know last-minute information delivery and messaging is a challenge in and of itself.  It takes a tremendous amount of resources to determine the plan and execute the delivery of these vaccinations.

In addition to the Minneapolis site, 35 local public health clinics across the state – as well as pharmacies in Brainerd, St. Cloud and Rochester – will administer doses to teachers, school staff and child care workers.

The virus has been ebbing for weeks in Minnesota, but health officials nationwide are concerned about emerging variants. On Monday, the state reported 727 new infections and two new deaths from the virus, bringing the state’s totals to 462,528 cases and 6,202 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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