Vaccine file photo

A Thrifty White pharmacist injects the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a patient Tuesday. New appointment slots this week filled up within minutes on Thrifty White’s website once the state expanded eligibility.

MANKATO — More than one-third of eligible residents in all area counties have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

South-central Minnesota reached the milestone for residents 16 and older this week, the latest sign of progress as the region and state prepare to ramp up vaccinations in April.

As of Friday’s update from the state, none of the nine area counties had less than 34% of residents age 16 or older vaccinated. Some are approaching the 50% mark.

Brown County was at 48% in the latest update, which included numbers through Wednesday. The full list of percentages by area county includes:

• Brown County — 48%

• Watonwan County — 44%

• Nicollet County — 42%

• Martin County — 41%

• Faribault County — 39%

• Blue Earth County — 37%

• Waseca County — 36%

•Le Sueur County — 34%

• Sibley County — 34%

Brown County’s progress is pleasing to see, said County Public Health Director Karen Moritz.

“We’re encouraged but we want to see that continue to grow,” she said. “As we get more vaccine we’re trying really hard to let our residents know this is how we’ll make it back to what we love to do.”

The county has six vaccinators administering doses to residents, she added. Brown County vaccinators include pharmacies at Hy-Vee and Walmart in New Ulm and Thrifty White in Springfield, as well as Sleepy Eye Medical Center and Allina’s New Ulm Medical Center. The county’s public health department also receives allotments, along with working to connect residents and businesses to vaccine opportunities through radio, print and social media messaging.

Moritz said other county public health departments in the area are doing similar work for their residents. She wasn’t sure why Brown County had such a high percentage of residents vaccinated so far, but mentioned collaborations have been good in the county.

The big goal will be to get 70-80% of eligible residents vaccinated. Experts believe those percentages could be needed to achieve herd immunity against the virus.

“We’re hoping the vaccine supply increases and we’re able to offer it much more broadly,” Moritz said.

After getting large initial shipments of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in March, the state is expecting more for the upcoming week. About 80,000 or so doses are slated to arrive, along with nearly 75,000 Pfizer doses and about 56,000 Moderna doses, said Eric Weller, coordinator of the South Central Health Care Coalition.

Beyond next week, it’s hard to predict how many doses will be coming. State and federal officials, however, have been saying supplies should take off in April.

Getting similar shipments of Johnson & Johnson doses on a regular basis would greatly help, Weller said. There was a lull in supplies for the vaccine after the first roll-out.

“If we got 80,000 per week from here on out, that would be wonderful,” Weller said. “We just don’t know that yet.”

The health care coalition is on track to get 1,870 doses for nine hospitals and clinics in the region next week. Other hospitals and clinics receive doses through other channels, as do many pharmacies.

There’s an urgency to get people vaccinated before COVID-19 variants get more of a foothold in the state. Variants are already driving an increase in cases and hospitalizations across the state, with south-central Minnesota seeing a 20.5% jump in cases this week.

Weller, who called the uptick concerning, encouraged people to get the vaccine at their soonest opportunity.

“The message continues to be the vaccine is safe,” he said. “Take it when it’s available.”

Moritz had a similar message for Brown County residents. The whole pandemic has required patience, but more is needed as the remaining unvaccinated residents seek appointments.

While waiting, Moritz said residents should keep up the mitigation efforts by wearing masks, social distancing and staying home when sick to hold off the variants.

“Don’t let up the guard now,” she said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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