County Manager Column from Jan. 27, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine update – Help us help our community

The questions I have received most over the past weeks have been about the COVID-19 vaccine. People are understandably very eager to receive their doses and – barring that – very eager to learn when they can. As the largest local public health department in Minnesota, our residents, businesses and others are turning to us. We spent this last week continuing to improve the vaccine information available on our website, and just like we have with so many aspects of our COVID-19 response, we will continue to evolve each week as we learn more and find better ways to share it.

There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around the vaccine. There’s also a lot we don’t have any control over. We receive our COVID-19 vaccine supply from the state – along with other local governments, hospitals, pharmacies and some health care providers. The state, in turn, receives its supply from the federal government. Demand is very high and supply is limited. As I shared a few weeks back, the federal government and the state have determined the phasing for who will be vaccinated.

Read about distribution phases and planning from MDH

Our public health department is currently vaccinating the “1a” population only with our allocation of the Moderna vaccine. Specifically, our staff began by vaccinating partners to serve as community vaccinators to support our efforts. To date, we have trained about 300 people – including existing and new volunteers of our Medical Reserve Corps -  to help us vaccinate others. Staff and these community vaccinators together have hosted about 20 targeted clinics where they provided first doses to EMS personnel, health care and homelessness service providers, staff at funeral homes and those in assisted living settings. Although our staff and volunteers have provided more than 2,000 first does so far, this is less than 10% of all of the people in Ramsey County who have received at least one dose through health care providers or hospitals – providers other than our public health department.

COVID-19 vaccines require two doses – the second 3-4 weeks after the first. We must carefully manage our supply and scheduling to ensure we’re providing the second dose to a person the proper amount of time after the first dose. Although we’ll begin providing second doses this week, every dose administered so far has been a first dose. 

See doses received and administered by week by our public health department

In short, our key message at this time is that the vaccine is not yet available for the general public and the vaccinations our public health department is providing in Ramsey County are for those who need to give the vaccinations to others or serve them in health care settings. Also, when more vaccine becomes available, most people will get it from their regular health care provider, a pharmacy, or at a vaccine clinic operated by public health departments and community health centers. Eventually, there will be enough vaccine for anyone who wants it, and it will be free.

In addition to giving targeted vaccinations, Public Health departments are also responsible for providing information to educate residents, businesses and others about COVID-19 and the vaccine. We need all hands on deck here and could use your help on this, too!

Please join us if you can to learn more this Thursday (Jan. 28) at a virtual information session about the vaccine for county employees only that will be held from 1:30-2:30 p.m. via Zoom. If you can’t join us at that time, the video of the meeting will be posted on RamseyNet for later viewing.

View details for the employee info session

The COVID-19 Racial Equity and Community Engagement Response Team (RECERT) and Public Health are also planning a series of virtual community conversations on the vaccine to share current information, answer questions and listen to community concerns. The first conversation will be Thursday, Feb. 4 from 5-6:30 p.m. – view event details. Several culturally specific conversations are expected to follow in the weeks ahead to engage community, help shape county messaging and improve our COVID-19 response.

Beyond that, there are many resources anyone can access to help keep up-to-date about the vaccine and our efforts in Ramsey County:

  • We’ve re-worked our main COVID-19 webpage at ramseycounty.us/Coronavirus to highlight our vaccine section with resources in multiple languages.
  • The page ramseycounty.us/CovidVaccine is updated daily with current information and includes an option for a quick signup for emails and/or text messages for updates about the vaccine that impact people in Ramsey County. This page also has a request form for employers with essential personnel in Ramsey County and data about safety and effectiveness.
  • We issue our regular COVID-19 e-newsletter every other week that includes information on the vaccine. We have also created a new COVID-19 Vaccine Update with email and text alerts for information specifically about the vaccine. Anyone can subscribe.
  • We provide and share updates on social media – mostly on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, but also Instagram and LinkedIn when applicable. We share both our own content and important updates from partners like the Minnesota Department of Health, Twin Cities Public Television and other community and cultural organizations and media partners.
  • We share information with a network of Trusted Messengers and community partners who help us lift up the information most pertinent to specific communities.
  • Public Health community engagement staff, along with RECERT staff and EAC members, work directly with partners and diverse populations. Just one example of this work is Health Educator Mao Thao, who will be appearing this week on a Hmong TV broadcast, one of five shows produced by TPT Now and partners to address community questions and concerns about the vaccine.
  • We host virtual Community Conversations or other town hall-style virtual presentations with subject matter experts such as our Medical Director Dr. Lynne Ogawa. Dr. Ogawa provided an overview of vaccines back in mid-November of last year.

Anything you can do to help us raise understanding of the current situation with the COVID-19 vaccine among colleagues, clients, contacts, neighbors and networks is very much appreciated by me and our Public Health team. We know there’s a lot of confusion and anxiety, and I hope this update and the resources listed here are helpful for you.

Watch the Jan. 26 COVID-19 update

Thanks for all you do!