County Manager Column from Jan. 5, 2021

Targeted COVID-19 vaccinations begin, but in limited supply

We start the new year with the encouraging news that Public Health has begun COVID-19 vaccinations of health care providers and first responders with one of the two highly effective vaccines that have begun arriving in our county.

Saint Paul – Ramsey County Public Health received its first shipment of 1,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine just before the holidays. Since then, Public Health has trained staff on administering the new vaccine and has held four vaccination clinics. Public Health nurses have now vaccinated more than 250 people following priority protocols, beginning with those who administer the vaccine to others and those who provide testing for COVID-19. Dozens of local Emergency Medical Services (EMS), fire department staff (those with EMS credentials) and other public safety employees have also received the vaccine in the clinics known to Public Health professionals as closed Points of Dispensing (PODs).

However, at this time there remains a very limited supply of vaccine available which federal and state health authorities have designated for targeted responders and populations at highest risk. Vaccinations also require two doses for full effectiveness with a second shot following the first by three or four weeks. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will continue to lead efforts to prioritize and communicate distribution of vaccine.

Read about distribution phases and planning from MDH

Those who are in the earliest phases for vaccination will be notified directly by their employers (including some of Ramsey County’s health care and public safety employees). In January, Public Health has committed to hold a minimum of three closed PODs a week at various locations throughout the county to continue to provide first doses to the targeted groups in the first phase. It’s important to remember that the vaccine is highly encouraged, but not required – either by the state of Minnesota or Ramsey County.

Vaccinations for long-term care facilities are being provided separately by the federal government through arrangements with pharmacies. The staff and residents of our Ramsey County Care Center, for instance, are scheduled to begin receiving vaccinations later this week. Other long-term and congregate living sites in the county will also begin receiving vaccinations this month, which our Public Health department won’t provide directly but will support and troubleshoot as needed.

Large-scale vaccination for most of the general public will not be available until vaccine supply is much larger - likely sometime this spring or summer. The vaccine is free and eventually will be available through health care providers, public health clinics, community health centers and pharmacies. Throughout the year, all Minnesotans who want to be vaccinated will be able to do so. Public Health, along with Emergency Management and other partners, has identified and begun planning for large sites where vaccine would be provided to the general public as more doses become available. 

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have both been proven to be 95% effective and are now being distributed across the state and nation, but we expect that additional vaccines may also become available in 2021. In case you missed it, our Medical Director Dr. Lynne Ogawa provided recent video presentations about how these vaccines work and were developed and tested.

Nov. 18 Virtual Town Hall     Presentation at Dec. 1 county board meeting (starts at 6 minutes)

In addition to the resources above, we are regularly updating ramseycounty.us/CovidVaccine with the latest information – if you receive questions about the vaccine from residents and businesses, please refer people to this one-stop resource. For employees, we will continue providing updates here on RamseyNet. Also – if you know or learn of health care professionals who want to volunteer to help provide vaccinations and support, please direct them to our Medical Reserve Corps at ramseycounty.us/MRC. As other general volunteer opportunities become available, we’ll promptly share those as well.

Kudos to the Public Health, Emergency Management and other staff who have worked to successfully kick off vaccination efforts among our first responders. As encouraging as this news is, we will all need to remain highly vigilant and continue the practices we have learned over the past 10 months to further prevent the spread of COVID-19. Thank you for your perseverance and dedication as we keep working through this together.