Mankato — More than one-third of eligible residents of counties in all regions receive at least one COVID-19 vaccine.
South Central Minnesota has reached a milestone this week for residents over the age of 16. This is a sign of the latest developments as regions and states are preparing to increase immunization in April.
At the time of the renewal from the state on Friday, less than 34% of residents aged 16 and over were unvaccinated in any of the nine regional counties. Some are approaching the 50% mark.
Brown County was 48% in the latest update, including figures up to Wednesday. Here is a complete list of percentages by area county:
• Brown County — 48%
• Watonwan County — 44%
• Nicollet County — 42%
• Martin County — 41%
• Faribaud County — 39%
• Blue Earth County — 37%
• Waseca County — 36%
• Le Sueur County-34%
• Sibley County — 34%
The progress of Brown County is a pleasure, said Karen Moritz, director of the county’s public health department.
“We are encouraged, but we hope it continues to grow,” she said. “As we get more vaccines, we are really working hard to let the population know that this is a way back to what we want to do.”
She added that the county has six vaccinated people who administer doses to the population. Vaccinators in Brown County include New Ulm’s Hivie and Wal-Mart, Springfield’s Slifty White Pharmacy, Sleepy Eye Medical Center, and New Ulm’s New Ulm Medical Center. The county’s public health sector also receives quotas, along with efforts to connect residents and businesses to vaccine opportunities through radio, printed matter, and social media messaging.
According to Moritz, the public health sector in other counties in the area is doing similar work for the population. She said she didn’t know why Brown County had such a high proportion of vaccinated residents, but that cooperation within the county was good.
The big goal is to vaccinate 70-80% of eligible residents. Experts believe that these percentages may be needed to achieve herd immunity to the virus.
“We want to increase the supply of vaccines, and we are now able to provide them much more widely,” Moritz said.
After receiving a large initial shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine once in March, the state is expecting more next week. Eric Weller, coordinator of the South Central Healthcare Union, said about 80,000 doses were planned in addition to about 75,000 doses of Pfizer and about 56,000 doses of Moderna.
It is difficult to predict how many doses will come after next week. However, state and federal officials say supplies should take off in April.
Weller said it would be very helpful to ship Johnson & Johnson doses in the same way on a regular basis. After the initial deployment, the vaccine supply has settled down.
“It would be great if we could get 80,000 a week from now on,” Weller said. “We don’t know that yet.”
The Healthcare Union plans to obtain 1,870 doses at nine hospitals and clinics in the region next week. Other hospitals and clinics, like many pharmacies, receive doses through other channels.
There is an urgent need to vaccinate people before the COVID-19 variant builds more foothold in the state. Case numbers increased by 20.5% this week in south-central Minnesota, and variants are already driving increased cases and hospitalizations across the state.
Calling for heightened concern, Weller urged people to vaccinate at their earliest opportunity.
“The message remains that the vaccine is safe,” he said. “Take it when it’s available.”
Moritz sent a similar message to the residents of Brown County. The whole pandemic required patience, but more is needed as the rest of the unvaccinated residents are asking for reservations.
While waiting, Moritz said residents should continue their mitigation efforts by wearing masks, keeping a social distance, and staying home in the event of illness to prevent varieties.
“Don’t give up on the guards now,” she said.