In Minnesota, the pace of COVID-19 vaccination has begun to slow as the state has reached many of the populations most eager to get the vaccine.
The number of first doses of COVID-19 vaccines has been dropping since mid-April, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, even as only about 60 percent of people over age 16 have been vaccinated — 10 percentage points short of the state’s goal of 70 percent before the mask mandate lifts.
Minnesota is not alone in seeing vaccinations slow. A state-by-state report on vaccinations from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released last week found that first dose vaccination rates have dropped in the U.S. overall and for 44 out of 50 states, prompting the researchers to conclude that many states are beginning to reach their “tipping points” — the point when the rate of vaccination is not determined by limitations in supply, but instead based on how much demand there is.
A month ago, when vaccines were first available to all adults in Minnesota, it was hard to find an appointment to get one: demand for them completely eclipsed supply.
At the state’s peak first dose administration, in the second week of April, it hit a weekly average of more than 40,000 doses. Since, that number has been dropping, suggesting there are more vaccines readily available to Minnesotans than Minnesotans lining up for a vaccine.
According to Kaiser’s research, 44 states and the District of Columbia had seen first vaccine administration rates per 100,000 residents drop in the week prior to the report’s release, indicating demand may be leveling off.
Even states with relatively high levels of vaccine coverage — mostly in the Northeast — are starting to see first dose administration slow down, suggesting they may be reaching their tipping points.
Twelve states had administered at least one dose of vaccine to more than 60 percent of their adult populations, but eight of the 12 had seen first dose administration rates decline in the last week. This “[suggests] that these states may be approaching or have reached demand saturation, albeit at relatively high vaccination coverage levels and rates of administration,” according to the report. Minnesota, at 60 percent coverage, had seen its average daily rate of first dose administration per 100,000 residents decline by 2 percent.
Some states with much lower coverage are seeing rates slow down, too. Twelve of 13 states where less than 50 percent of the adult population had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose have also seen first vaccination rates decline, including Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
State to state differences
While states have been receiving COVID-19 vaccine on the size of their eligible population, their efficiency at administering vaccinations and the differences in their underlying populations mean states will hit their vaccine tipping points at different times, said Josh Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at KFF.
Ever since vaccines for COVID-19 were first talked about, researchers have been worried about vaccine hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy comes in many forms: Some people fear getting a vaccine that’s so new, or worry that it was rushed without being tested (it was tested as rigorously as any vaccine). Others just don’t want to go first, and others still have fallen prey to misinformation or disinformation about the vaccine’s potential effects.
KFF has been tracking vaccine hesitancy over time, finding that the share of people who say they’ll get the vaccine as soon as possible or have already been vaccinated has increased over time, from 47 percent in January to nearly two-thirds in April.
But the increases in that more willing group are slowing. According to KFF researchers, that suggests “that increasing vaccination rates beyond that point will require converting other people who are less enthusiastic and that vaccination rates may only inch forward from this point on.”
That doesn’t mean that the U.S. will be stuck at 64 percent, but rather that vaccinating people beyond that might be slow going, requiring the convincing of people who are still in the “wait and see” group.
“Even within a state, it’s not going to be one story. In some places, in some populations, there may be more of an access issue,” Michaud said. “In our surveys we found there are some people who just don’t have the information about where to get vaccinated.”
In other places, ideology may play more of a role: polling has found that places that vote heavily Republican and have a higher percentage of evangelical Christians tend to have higher levels of vaccine refusal, Michaud said.
Because of the differences in states’ underlying populations, Michaud said it’s hard to point to lessons states that are vaccinating people quickly could teach the states that are lagging behind.
“Northeastern states have really led the way in terms of overall numbers of adults vaccinated and the pace of vaccinations continuing,” he said. “Also the underlying demand for vaccines is probably higher in those states compared to the southern states … they’re working with a different set of circumstances [and] have a little bit more of their work cut out for them.”
Minnesota is ahead of other Midwestern states in terms of vaccine coverage and pace, but Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz urged Minnesotans who are on the fence to get vaccinated now as he announced a rollback of COVID-19 restrictions in the state last week.
“Our path forward is pretty clear. Minnesota: Now, the next three weeks really, it’s on you to get the vaccines. It’s on you to talk to your neighbors, it’s on you to talk to your doctors. We have them available. They’re out there,” he said, urging Minnesotans to get to the state’s goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated and then push past it.