Health care providers were given the green light Thursday by state health leaders to begin the vaccination of people 65 and older against the coronavirus.

According to an Otter Tail County source, the newcomers are considered to be in the Phase 1B group.

People in the 1B group include roughly 16% of Minnesota’s total population - nearly 1 million men and women.

The Otter Tail County release states that while there might not initially be enough vaccine for everyone, the plan is to provide the shots for all eligible county residents as the vaccine becomes available.

As of Jan. 14, state data shows that 1,860 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered and that 124 county residents had completed the vaccination series.

Vaccine administrator clinics are presently scheduled and invitations to those county residents eligible to register are being distributed. As phases progress and expand and more people are eligible to receive the vaccine shot, information can be found at: ottertailcountymn.us/covid019-vaccine/. There is no waiting list.

Public health director Jody Lien anticipates that all priority groups in Phase 1A will have been offered vaccines by the end of January.

“We have scheduled a number of residential sites and Phase 1A clinics in Otter Tail County in the coming weeks with the vaccine we’ve been allocated,” Lien said. “As we receive more vaccine, we will move into the newly identified priority populations for vaccine administration.”

The state is still vaccinating people in the first group of the state rollout plan - health care workers, dentists, in-home nurses and those working at mental health care clinics.

In responding to the criticism voiced by some Americans about a slow rollout of vaccine since the process began Jan. 4, Lien said: “What I would say from our perspective right now is with the vaccine we are allocated we are working as quickly as we can with the prioritized groups as we are given them. I think it is important for folks to understand that the allocations don’t necessarily meet the eligibility needs of the Minnesota population right now. We get about 60,000 doses as a state and those priority populations are larger than that. Right now we are still working through having enough vaccination for that first priority group.”

Will everyone be vaccinated by this summer?

“It’s really hard to say, there are so many variables that play into that,” Lien said. “Obviously the first is going to be availability of the vaccine and what manufacturers we have available to us. The message really is as we have vaccine the goal is to get that out into the community for those that are in that priority group and are interested in receiving it.”

Otter Tail County Public Health is asking everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, to continue to practice COVID-19 prevention measures such as wearing a face mask, maintaining social distancing and avoiding gatherings with others outside their household.

As of Thursday the total deaths from COVID-19 in Minnesota was 5,817 according to state data.

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