After nine months of living with COVID-19, its lockdowns and its waves of illness and hospitalizations, the first Minnesotans to receive the protection of new COVID-19 vaccinations got their shots mid-December last year.
Now, nearly nine months after that, nearly 3.5 million people, or 61.4 percent of the state’s population, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How are we doing compared to other states?
Where we’ve been
After vaccinations first became available to Minnesotans in December, the number of vaccinations logged in the state’s vaccine database ticked up week by week, as a limited supply of vaccine went to the most at-risk Minnesotans and those who care for them.
As a larger supply of vaccines became available in the early months of 2021, and a broader swath of the state became eligible for them, the state’s vaccination pace skyrocketed. But in April, vaccinations peaked — and then dropped off as supply began to outstrip demand for the shots, even as younger Minnesotans were made eligible for them.
In recent weeks, vaccinations have risen again as the delta variant has spread throughout the country.
In Minnesota, a program incentivizing vaccination with $100 gift cards also appeared to help boost vaccination rates, with more than 79,000 Minnesotans getting vaccinated to claim the reward. More employers have also mandated vaccines.
So where does that put us?
Stuck in the middle
While Minnesota loves to be ranked No. 1, it’s far from first place in vaccination. By many measures, Minnesota falls around the upper middle tier of states in getting its population vaccinated. (We’re using CDC data for the purposes of comparing states in this story because it’s more comparable across states than data from the Minnesota Department of Health.)
If you look at the share of states’ and the District of Columbia’s vaccine-eligible residents (currently those age 12 and older) who are fully vaccinated, Minnesota ranks 16th, with 65.3 percent (12+ vaccination data is not reported for Idaho).
That’s a way behind the states leading the nation, like Vermont (76.6 percent) and Connecticut (75.1 percent), but it’s far ahead of Alabama (43.3 percent) and Mississippi (44 percent). The national average is 51.9 percent.
New England states are ahead of the pack in vaccinating their residents, and have been for some time, and they have a few things in common that likely explain that: Some, like New York and Massachusetts, were hit hard by the pandemic early on. New England tends to be politically aligned with Democrats, and attitudes about vaccination are closely linked to political affiliation, said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. People who are older, higher income and more highly educated are also more likely to get vaccinated.
Conversely, people who are poorer, have lower levels of education, are younger and tend to vote more Republican are less likely to be vaccinated.
Many of these factors are found at higher concentrations in southern states, where Tolbert said some state leaders have also not consistently promoted vaccines as a means to reduce severe COVID-19 illness and hospitalization.
“Some of the southern states are led by governors that have not fully embraced the importance of getting vaccinated and so maybe have not put perhaps as much effort into making vaccines more accessible,” Tolbert said.
By these measures, it’s maybe unsurprising that Minnesota — politically moderate, fairly well-educated, with above average incomes and of roughly average age — is in the upper middle of states when it comes to vaccination efforts.
But other factors play a role in states’ vaccination paces, too. New Mexico, poorer and largely rural, has among the highest shares of residents vaccinated, at 69.7 percent of people 12 and older fully vaccinated. It was an early leader in vaccinations and has remained ahead of other states because of a strong partnership with tribal governments, a health system with few players that was able to reach people effectively, and a single statewide appointment website deployed early on, Politico reported.
Largely rural, red and poorer West Virginia was praised for its quick vaccine rollout in the earliest weeks after vaccines were first available; the state quickly emphasized the use of local pharmacies that reached residents fast. But now, West Virginia is among the bottom of the pack, with 45.5 percent of residents over 12 vaccinated.
Hard-hit states gaining ground
By one measure, some of the states hard-hit by the delta variant are gaining ground on Minnesota.
States that have been hit hardest by the latest wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as a result of the delta variant have seen an uptick in residents getting vaccinated in recent weeks, resulting in a marked rise in the share of the population that has received at least one vaccine, even though their fully vaccinated shares lag behind Minnesota.
Minnesota has 72.3 percent of its population 12 and older at least partially vaccinated, ranking 21st among states and the District of Columbia. That’s roughly on par with Florida, at 72.2 percent, which has seen a sizable increase in vaccination recently as its hospitals have filled. Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana, also hit hard by the delta variant, have seen surges in demand for vaccines, too.
“You don’t want that to be a motivating factor, but unfortunately, when people see their friends getting sick, ending up in the hospital, potentially dying, that is a huge motivator,” Tolbert said.
As vaccination efforts move forward, it’s unclear whether Minnesota, presumably better off than states with lower vaccination rates to begin with when it comes to the delta variant, will see a similarly large uptick due to fears over the variant. The state is currently amid another wave of COVID-19, and while hospitalizations and cases have increased, it’s unclear the degree to which higher caseloads will drive vaccinations.
Not all equal
Racial disparities remain in Minnesota’s vaccination rates, with white Minnesotans vaccinated at rates higher than many racial and ethnic groups.
A comparison from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows Minnesota’s white-Black disparity on par with the national average, while Minnesota’s white-Hispanic vaccine disparity is worse than the national average. Minnesota’s Asian population has been vaccinated at a greater rate than its white population.
Kaiser’s analysis doesn’t include Indigenous populations, but the state’s vaccine equity data show a large gap between white Minnesotans, 65 percent of the 12+ population of which are at least partly vaccinated, and Indigenous Minnesotans, for whom that share is 54 percent.
The gap between vaccination rates for white Minnesotans and multiracial Minnesotans is even larger, with just 19.1 percent of multiracial Minnesotans having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Addressing racial and ethnic disparities in vaccination continues to be a major challenge for states, Tolbert said.
“In a lot of cases it’s not that there’s opposition, necessarily, to getting vaccinated. There is just concern,” she said. “If you can address those concerns, answer those questions, then you can convince some people to get vaccinated, but all of that does take time.”
Even as vaccinations rise, it’s far from clear where Minnesota will ultimately land in vaccinating its population.
Given vaccine hesitancy in the U.S., some experts say it’s unlikely the country will reach herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus. But Minnesota is likely to see continued increase in vaccination levels. Children under the age of 12 are expected to become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in the coming months, and mandates through employers and activities — like travel — are also likely to contribute to increased vaccination rates over time.