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RACING THE VARIANTS: Mayo and Olmsted health leaders detail vaccination efforts

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- More than 46 percent of Olmsted County residents have at least their first dose of vaccine, which is almost 60 percent of people eligible.

However, there are some still concerns. Local health officials warn that the pandemic is not over yet as Minnesota experiences COVID-19 case growth.

"We're in a gray zone here because we're partially vaccinated as a community," said Graham Briggs, Olmsted County Public Health director.

Almost 90 percent of seniors have at least one vaccine dose, but one Mayo Clinic doctor says recent polls show fewer people are socially isolating.

"There's also been a little decline in reluctance to get vaccinated, which is good," said Dr. Melanie Swift, Mayo Clinic COVID-19 vaccine co-chair. "Still about a quarter of Americans say they don't want to be vaccinated." That's concerning. We're in a race between vaccination and mutation."

Variants have been identified in Minnesota. While none have yet been detected in Olmsted County, they may already be out there.

"I think it's just a matter of time before we do identify that it's circulating here to some degree," Briggs said.

It means Minnesota's rising case numbers are still a concern, despite everyone older than the age of 16 now eligible for the vaccine.

"The vaccine supply has become more reliable but it is still not enough to meet demand," Swift said.

"It's very possible and likely that Minnesota is going to see another surge in transmission before we're able to offer vaccine to everyone," Briggs added.

While health leaders hope to get the vaccine out to everyone, some minority communities are hesitant to roll up their sleeves or are not able to access a vaccine or an appointment.

"We know that there's a lot of misinformation, lack of information in the community and lack of access to healthcare," said Dr. Chyke Doubeni, Mayo center for health equity director "Even in healthcare settings, the quality of care is not as good as they could receive."

Inequalities that are relevant as ever and maybe more apparent.

"In the COVID era, I think we've exposed even more the impact of disparities and the effect of health related issues in communities of color," said Dr. Michele Halyard, Mayo professor of radiation oncology.

The state of Minnesota has worked to implement strategies aimed at better reaching minority communities.

Another group that has yet to be vaccinated at all may soon be able to be vaccinated. Pfizer is hoping to get emergency use authorization from the FDA in the next few weeks to offer vaccine to anyone 12 and older.

Alex Tejada

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