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The Minnesota Department of Health's testing lab handles samples of COVID-19.

MANKATO — Two major health care providers in the Mankato area reported high COVID-19 vaccination rates among staff before last week’s deadline, while the push to get more Minnesotans booster doses continues statewide.

Workers had until Monday to comply, which meant getting vaccinated or receiving an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

It applied to health care facilities across the country, including Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato and Mankato Clinic employees.

About 99% of Mayo Clinic workers received COVID-19 vaccines before last week’s deadline, according to a statement.

“Mayo Clinic transitioned to a required COVID-19 vaccination program for all staff to advance the primary value of Mayo Clinic — the needs of the patient come first,” said Kelley Luckstein of Mayo Clinic’s department of public affairs in the statement.

“This is a time when Mayo Clinic must stand firmly behind the evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines to help protect the health and safety of our patients, workforce, visitors, and communities.”

Vaccinated people have markedly lower COVID-19 case, hospitalization and death rates than unvaccinated people, according to breakthrough data for Minnesota. Health officials have been urging unvaccinated people to seek initial doses and vaccinated people to seek boosters as a way to contend with the new omicron variant.

“Vaccinations, staying home if you’re sick, isolating and quarantining — it’s still those messages,” said Eric Weller, coordinator of the South Central Healthcare Coalition, in late December. “That’s still the best thing people can do. The vaccine does work against the new variant.”

Mayo Clinic granted most exemption requests based on medical or religious reasons. The roughly 1% of workers who didn’t get vaccinated and didn’t get exemptions “will be released from employment,” according to the statement.

It amounted to about 700 unvaccinated Mayo Clinic workers nationwide. Mayo Clinic employs about 73,000 workers total.

“While Mayo Clinic is saddened to lose valuable employees, we need to take all steps necessary to keep our patients, workforce, visitors and communities safe.” Luckstein stated. “If individuals released from employment choose to get vaccinated at a later date, the opportunity exists for them to apply and return to Mayo Clinic for future job openings.”

Other employers across the country saw similarly high vaccination rates after announcing requirements. All of Mankato Clinic’s employees either got vaccinated or received an exemption, according to a statement.

“At Mankato Clinic, we are fortunate that all of our employees are in compliance with the COVID-19 vaccination policy,” stated Keith Bauer, director of human resources at Mankato Clinic.

“Employees are fully vaccinated or have received a medical or religious exemption. We are proud that we are doing everything we can to protect our patients and staff.”

Minnesota State University reached 92% of employees being fully vaccinated, along with 71% of students.

The lower figure is still well above Blue Earth County’s 55% vaccination rate among the 18-49 age group, which covers most college-age students.

Minnesota State University, Mayo Clinic Health System and Mankato Clinic are three of the biggest employers in the Mankato area, and all are now encouraging boosters. Evidence shows booster doses give recipients greater protection against COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

It’s unclear how many residents in south-central Minnesota have received boosters. State vaccination data doesn’t publicly show county-level rates for boosters.

Statewide, though, about 1.79 million Minnesotans received boosters as of Wednesday. In comparison, about 3.5 million Minnesotans received initial doses, leaving much room to go for all of them to get boosted.

South-central Minnesota counties have consistently been behind the statewide average for vaccination rates during the pandemic. A similar trend for boosters is most likely.

To raise the numbers among its staff and students, MSU has two vaccines clinics with boosters scheduled shortly into its spring semester.

The clinics will be held from 1-4 p.m. Jan. 20 and 9 a.m.-noon Jan 21 at Student Health Services.

In a campuswide email sent Wednesday, MSU President Edward Inch referenced the omicron variant in encouraging the university community to receive booster doses.

“As you’re likely aware, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has become the dominant variant nationally,” he stated. “It is highly transmittable although it appears to cause milder symptoms than prior variants — especially for those who are vaccinated and boosted.”

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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