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COVID-19 update: Vaccinations slow amid Johnson and Johnson ‘pause’

Minnesota’s vaccination rate has slowed slightly over the past week, with around 25,000 people per day getting their first shot, down from around 30,000 per day at the peak. The slowdown is driven by fewer doses being sent into the state — especially fewer doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

On Tuesday, state officials followed the lead of the federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which jointly recommended a pause in administering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Minnesota will receive no new Johnson & Johnson doses next week, a sharp drop from the 80,000 it received last week.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

• 6,978 deaths (16 new); 547,101 positive cases; 95 percent off isolation

• 48 percent of adults with at least one dose; 33 percent completely vaccinated

• About 84 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older with at least one vaccine

“This is being done out of an abundance of caution. This is the way the system is supposed to work. I would anticipate this should be a relatively short pause,” Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday, adding that 95 percent of the vaccinations in Minnesota have been Pfizer or Moderna supplies and those shipments are continuing unabated.

Walz, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm all received the J&J vaccine two weeks ago.

Severe side effects from the J&J vaccine remain extremely rare, said Malcolm. Anyone experiencing severe headaches, abdominal pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the J&J shot should contact their health care provider, she said.

Officials say they are not aware of any cases of blood clots occurring among the more than 184,000 state residents who have received the single dose vaccine.

Vaccination rates probably won’t accelerate any time soon. Minnesota is on tap to receive about 142,000 new first doses next week — about the same number it received this week. That’s enough to vaccinate about 20,000 new people per day, on average. Before the J&J pause and an earlier factory mishap, officials had been hopeful that a flood of new J&J vaccines would combine with existing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to drive Minnesota’s vaccination rate to a new level.

Vaccinations, cases, ICU needs push higher

The newest numbers still suggest the state may reach a hopeful milestone — half of adults with at least one vaccine dose — by the end of this week or early next.

About 33.1 percent of Minnesota adults are completely vaccinated; 48.3 percent have received at least one vaccine dose, including about 84.4 percent of residents age 65 and older, the state Health Department said Wednesday.

But COVID-19 case counts are trending higher, too. Two weeks ago, the state was averaging about 1,600 new cases per day. Now, it’s about 2,100.

The number of known, active cases has been trending upward over the past few weeks, with more than 17,000 as of Wednesday’s report — marking more than three weeks with active daily counts above 10,000.

Hospitalizations have climbed significantly in the past weeks to levels not seen since January, and deaths tied to the disease are trending up, too. Health officials say coronavirus variants circulating in Minnesota are driving those increases.

The state on Wednesday reported 681 people in Minnesota hospitals with COVID-19; 164 needed intensive care, hovering near the highest number of ICU patients since early January.

While still low compared to late November and early December, the rising trend is notable given the worries over the rise of the highly contagious U.K. COVID-19 variant, which state health officials suspect is driving the current upswing.

To date, the state has confirmed at least 1,600 cases of the U.K. strain. State epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said last week that the variant is linked to five deaths here and likely responsible for the majority of the spread happening now.

Malcolm said recently that while the increase in cases is concerning, the growing number of vaccinated people in Minnesota means the state likely won’t see as steep a surge in cases of the scope seen in November and December.

Three deaths reported on Wednesday raised Minnesota’s overall pandemic death toll to 6,978. Among those who’ve died, about 62 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The state has recorded 547,101 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 1,715 posted Wednesday. About 95 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

South-central Minnesota update

Freeborn County reported 14 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and has now had  had 3,236 people who have had COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Information about the new cases and how many cases are considered active has not yet been released.

As of Monday, 11,433 people in Freeborn County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 7,693 people have received the completed series.

The following is an update on other area counties:

• Faribault County: two new lab-confirmed cases; 1,424 total cases; 5,084 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 3,606 had received the completed series.

• Mower County: seven new lab-confirmed cases; 4,486 total cases; 15,989 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 10,527 had received the completed series.

• Steele County: 20 new lab-confirmed cases; 3,546 total cases; 13,076 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 8,607 had received the completed series.

• Waseca County: seven new lab-confirmed cases; 2,287 total cases; 6,473 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 4,473 had received the completed series.

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