The state of Minnesota expects to have guidance the week of Jan. 18 on how to go about vaccinating people in Phase 1b, which includes essential workers and people who are at least 75 years old.

In the meantime, Minnesota continues to focus on getting the vaccines to people in Phase 1a and a coalition called Minnesota Vaccine Allocation Advisory Group is working to determine the guidance for Phase 1b.

Kris Ehresmann, the director of the Minnesota Department of Health's Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division, said the state anticipates to start Phase 1b vaccinations late January or early February. That timeline largely depends on the state continuing to receive the expected amount of vaccine allocations from the federal government.

"We're not at that point," Ehresmann said.

Minnesotans who are eligible to receive a vaccine in the next phase need not worry about the lack of information at the moment, Ehresmann said in a COVID-19 briefing Thursday. State health officials will be doing outreach once the guidelines are finalized and as those vaccines become available.

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"It is not a situation where you have one chance to be vaccinated and if you miss it you're out of luck," Ehresmann said. "There will be much communication and many opportunities, so we will be doing that as we move out of Phase 1a."

Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Public Health, discusses the state’s response to the coronavirus at the State Capitol in St. Paul on March 6, 2020. Dave Orrick / St. Paul Pioneer Press
Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Public Health, discusses the state’s response to the coronavirus at the State Capitol in St. Paul on March 6, 2020. Dave Orrick / St. Paul Pioneer Press

As of now, there are no waitlists or appointments people who fall under Phase 1b need to worry about.

The coalition working on the vaccination guidelines meets next on Monday and is made up of 16 people, including state, local and tribal public health officials as well as representatives from health care facilities and health associations.

States receive guidance and recommendations from the federal government on how to allocate vaccine doses. The states then have to determine how to apply that guidance at local levels.

Ehresmann, who's one of the coalition members, said health care providers, pharmacies and local public health will all play a role in getting those vaccines to people in Phase 1b.

"We know that in some situations it makes more sense for people to receive their vaccine from either their usual health care provider or a pharmacist," she said. "In other settings it may make sense to have a stand-up employer-based vaccination clinic. So we'll be looking at multiple different options for that."

The state can't move on to Phase 1b until every Minnesotan in Phase 1a who wants to receive the vaccine has had their first shot. Phase 1a includes health care workers as well as long-term care residents and employees.

Dr. Andrew Thompson, an infectious disease expert at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth, said the hospital has received numerous questions from patients wondering about the next phase of vaccines. But along with patients, he, too, is eagerly awaiting those answers.

"We don't know any more than what has been stated publicly," Thompson said. "I have a lot of questions. I'm desperate to hear from state and federal authorities what they think we should be doing. Of course we're eager to help, but we don't have all the stuff and the staff to make it all happen."

Dr. Andrew Thompson, St. Luke’s Infectious Disease Specialist (St. Luke's photo)
Dr. Andrew Thompson, St. Luke’s Infectious Disease Specialist (St. Luke's photo)

As of Friday, Minnesota was reporting that more than 104,000 residents had received at least the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. That number is likely a couple of days old as it can take up to 48 hours for new vaccine data to be processed.

In the last two days, nearly 1,400 St. Louis County residents were added to the state's vaccine data. Carlton County logged 238 more people who have received the vaccine.