By Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The Minneapolis VA Medical Center was among four locations to receive Minnesota’s first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday and will begin administering vaccinations on Tuesday.

“This is the day we’ve all been waiting for,” said Gov. Tim Walz, who was at the hospital when the shipment arrived, according to the Star Tribune.

The Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester and Cass Lake Indian Health Services also received shipments on Monday. The state is expected to receive 46,800 units of vaccine this week for distribution statewide. Minnesota hospital systems expected to receive their initial shipments in the next day or two and will begin administering vaccinations next week.

“We are very excited to provide a vaccine that has the potential to help get COVID-19 under control when used alongside public health measures such as masking, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing,” said Patrick Kelly, director of the Minneapolis VA.

The first COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer received emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, and a vaccine made by Moderna is expected to receive federal approval soon. The initial shipments of vaccines to Minnesota are being earmarked for health care workers who are at greatest risk of COVID-19 exposure, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

State infectious diseases director Kris Ehresmann said during a media briefing Monday that the state health department will use this week to train providers on how to administer the vaccine, with most vaccinations expected to begin next week. The VA Medical Center will begin vaccinations on Tuesday because the hospital is a federal facility and not part of the state’s administration timeline.

“This vaccine is new and complex, and vaccinating thousands of people in a short time is a massive undertaking, so the training is critical to ensure vaccines are administered according to protocols,” she said. “Our focus is on safety this week, and not speed.”

Minnesota health officials on Monday reported an additional 3,026 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 18 new deaths. The state has registered 381,841 cases and 4,462 deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic.

Minnesota has ranked 12th in the country for new cases per capita over the last two weeks. Over the last week, one in every 201 people in Minnesota has tested positive for the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during the briefing that while “we’re not out of the woods yet,” case growth across the state has been trending downward since mid-November, and hospitalization rates are beginning to come down following record highs in recent weeks.

“That has been an extremely important and welcome bit of respite for our healthcare workers in hospitals,” Malcolm told reporters. “But with nearly 11,000 new cases reported since Friday and a high death toll over the weekend, clearly we are still in a precarious state.”

Meanwhile, a group called ReOpen Minnesota says more than 200 business owners are committing to reopening this week in defiance of Walz’s executive order that closed bars and restaurants to in-person dining in an effort to curb the virus’ spread. Walz’s four-week closure is set to expire on Friday.

State health officials on Sunday temporarily suspended the liquor license of one restaurant, Boardwark Bar & Grill in East Grand Forks, days after a Polk County court closed the establishment to in-person dining.

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