Starting next week, the state fairgrounds will become a mass COVID-19 vaccination site where Minnesota will give out enough doses to fully vaccinate 100,000 people over eight weeks.
While the administration of Gov. Tim Walz has nine large vaccination clinics in Minnesota, this is the first to spring from a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has opened similar sites around the country.
Eligibility for the site will notably be determined by where people live. Only those in 38 ZIP codes across Hennepin and Ramsey counties can secure an appointment through an invitation from the state’s Vaccine Connector website.
Health officials say the ZIP codes were chosen based on a confluence of factors like racial demographics and poverty. In a statement Monday, FEMA’s acting regional administrator for Minnesota Kevin Sligh said in a statement that the site “will greatly expand and expedite vaccine to the most underserved and vulnerable populations.”
Those 38 ZIP codes reach a huge swath of the Twin Cities, including many neighborhoods and cities where people of color or lower-income people make up a large share of the population. But the ZIP codes also include several areas — including stretches of Edina and Minneapolis’ Kenwood neighborhood — that are synonymous with affluence.
Minnesota data on vaccine equity shows the state has vaccinated white people at a faster rate than residents who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC). About 81.6 percent of Minnesotans age 15 and over are white, but state data show roughly 89.3 percent of people who have received at least one vaccine dose are white. While Black people make up 6 percent of the 15+ population, only 3.7 percent of Black Minnesotans in that age group have received at least one shot.
Those gaps are smaller among people age 65 and older, according to state data, and the demographics of those previously eligible for vaccines — such as health care workers and teachers — may play a role in the current data. (Though, generally, state officials have said disparities remain even when accounting for the racial and ethnic makeup of different industries.)
Some vaccination options, primarily shots at pharmacy chains, are also easier to get for people who have easy internet access, can be flexible during daytime hours, or can travel long distances to get a vaccine.
In a statement Monday, Walz said he pushed for a federal vaccination site specifically to help reach Minnesotans hardest hit by the pandemic, and to help the state achieve “ambitious goals to vaccinate Minnesotans as equitably and efficiently as possible.”
People who are eligible need an appointment for the vaccine clinic, which will begin April 14. The state will reach out to people signed up with its Vaccine Connector to schedule appointments.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters this week the state proposed which areas should be eligible and the federal government “agreed with our selection.” The eligible ZIP codes are based in large part on what’s called the Social Vulnerability Index, a federal metric that Malcolm said is based on 15 different measures. Those measures include income level, housing stock, transportation access, race and ethnicity and education status, Malcolm said.
That SVI metric has been used to determine allocation of vaccines to some local pharmacies and health providers so far in the vaccination drive, too. The eligible ZIP codes for the state fair event are: 55101, 55102, 55103, 55104, 55106, 55107, 55109, 55111, 55112, 55113, 55114, 55117, 55118, 55119, 55130, 55344, 55402, 55403, 55404, 55405, 55406, 55407, 55408, 55411, 55412, 55413, 55415, 55420, 55421, 55423, 55425, 55428, 55429, 55430, 55432, 55435, 55454, 55458.
That includes much of Minneapolis and St. Paul, though a handful of more affluent neighborhoods like Nokomis, East Harriet, Kingfield, Lynnhurst, Kenny and parts of northeast Minneapolis didn’t make the cut.
People in northside Minneapolis neighborhoods like Jordan are eligible, as well as those living on the east side of St. Paul. In Jordan, the median household income between 2015 and 2019 was $43,477, according to the Minnesota Compass project, which tracks federal data on Twin Cities neighborhoods. About 49 percent of residents are Black and 15 percent were Latino over that time period. In Payne-Phalen, an eligible neighborhood in St. Paul, the median household income was $52,950, and 37 percent of residents were Asian or Pacific Islander, 14.5 percent were Black and 12.9 percent were Latino.
Also eligible for vaccination at the fairgrounds is Kenwood, where the median household income was $115,000 and the neighborhood was 91.6 percent white. Median household income in nearby Bryn Mawr was $121,683, where residents were 87.2 percent white. In Lowry Hill, which is also eligible, median household income was $80,955 and residents were 86 percent white. Houses and condos selling for more than $1 million dot the eligible ZIP code that includes a stretch of Edina and Southdale Center mall. People in slices of Summit Avenue in St. Paul, where mansions line leafy streets, are also eligible.
So why are comparably ritzy neighborhoods eligible for a vaccination event targeted at equity?
Walz’s office said the SVI metric is based on census tracts, and decided the top quartile of tracts in the metro area would be eligible. But the administration figured nobody knows what census tract they live in, so it would be hard to communicate who is eligible to get them to seek vaccination.
To get around that, Walz made entire ZIP codes eligible with targeted census tracts. That resulted in some ZIP codes with high SVI and some with low SVI becoming eligible. The ZIP code that includes Kenwood and Bryn Mawr also includes Harrison, a neighborhood where median income is $48,112 and 56.6 percent of residents were BIPOC.
Walz officials thought it would penalize people in high SVI areas because they live close to wealthier areas if they didn’t include the full ZIP codes of affluent neighborhoods.
As Malcolm put it: “There are a number of different factors that go into the Social Vulnerability Index and certainly some ZIP codes do have quite a mixture within them.”