COVID-19 vaccine file 2

Sarah Schmidt, pharmacy manager for Thrifty White in Mankato, draws a syringe of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in February at Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows assisted living in North Mankato. 

MANKATO — COVID-19 vaccine sites scheduled later this week will push south-central Minnesota’s rate closer to another key milestone.

The nine-county region had about 59.4% of residents age 16 or older vaccinated with at least one dose as of Tuesday, according to Minnesota Department of Health data. Achieving a 60% rate is the next goal, with three area counties already there and another on the cusp.

Free vaccine clinics in St. Peter on Thursday and during North Mankato’s Fun Days on Friday and Saturday will be the latest local efforts to reach more unvaccinated residents.

Thursday’s Pfizer vaccine clinic will be held from 3-5 p.m. at the St. Peter Community Center. North Mankato’s Johnson & Johnson vaccine sites will be at Wheeler Park from 6-8 p.m. Friday and 2-5 p.m. Saturday, said Eric Weller, coordinator of the South Central Health Care Coalition.

At 64.6%, Nicollet County is one of the three area counties to surpass more than 60% of its 16-and-older population being vaccinated with one dose. The others are Blue Earth County at 61.3% and Brown County at 66.3%. Watonwan County was only nine more vaccinated residents away from 60% as of Tuesday.

Sibley County is the sole area county with less than 50% of the age group vaccinated. It sat at 49.4% as of Tuesday.

Rates aren’t likely to increase to any large extent from here, Weller said, with most people who wanted the vaccine already receiving it.

“We knew anything over 50% is a bonus,” he said. “I understand and respect people’s thoughts on this, but we know the science shows us the vaccines are important and they’ve absolutely saved lives.”

Death tolls dwindled in Minnesota and nationwide as vaccination rates picked up in the spring.

About 99.2% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. last month occurred in unvaccinated people, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, leader of the federal government’s pandemic response. Previously, Gov. Tim Walz’s office stated nearly all of Minnesota’s hospitalizations and cases since December occurred in unvaccinated residents.

Mainly driven by the Twin Cities metro, Minnesota’s statewide vaccine progress continues to outpace the south-central region. Minnesota had 67.2% of residents 16 and older with at least one dose in the state’s vaccine data Tuesday, which Weller said doesn’t include doses administered through the Veterans Administration or Bureau of Prisons.

Some states have adult vaccination rates still below 50%, making Minnesota’s better-than-average rate look even more favorable.

“Minnesotans have really done their part by doing this,” Weller said. “And (the vaccine) is still out there and still available if people want it.”

In another demographic measure, Minnesota reached President Joe Biden’s goal for states reaching 70% of 18-and-older residents being vaccinated by the Fourth of July. Walz called it a “remarkable achievement” in a release.

Walk-ins are welcome at each of the vaccine sites in St. Peter and North Mankato this week. Spanish and Somali language interpreters will be available in St. Peter.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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