MDH briefing: State health officials address SARS-CoV-2 variants, vaccination disparities

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Listen to the full briefing above.

On Friday, Minnesota health officials took part in a COVID-19 briefing to discuss the new partnership announced regarding race and ethnicity vaccine data collection, and new variants of the virus and how they’re trending in Minnesota.

Race and ethnicity vaccine data collection

Earlier Friday, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan’s administration announced the publication of vaccination data by race and ethnicity, which will be recorded on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, made possible through a partnership between the state and the Minnesota Electronic Health Record (EHR).

The data will inform additional, targeted strategies to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccine to Minnesotans of all races and ethnicities, including communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 as a result of systemic inequities.

Walz announces partnership between state, health care systems on race and ethnicity data collection

According to the data as of Friday, MDH reports that over 90% of vaccinations administered have been to white people. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm believes that demographic is being overrepresented due to long-term care facilities and health care workers mostly fitting that data.

New variants of SARS-CoV-2

Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a state epidemiologist, urged caution and asked for Minnesotans to stay vigilant with mitigation measures as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged in the state.

She said there are three variants of concern: B.1.1.7. (first discovered in the United Kingdom), P.1. (first discovered from travelers coming back from Brazil) and B. (found in Africa). The first two have been detected in Minnesota, and Dr. Lynfield added that 48 states have seen the B.1.1.7. variant.

Minnesota has seen new variant cases pop up in all seven of the metro area counties – Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington. Additionally, Lynfield said the Minnesota Department of Health has found new variants in eight other counties as well. They are: Blue Earth, Chisago, Isanti, Kennebec, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Pine and Wright counties.

"This emphasizes to all of us the importance of prevention and control measures in communities," Dr. Lynfield said. "It is critical we not let down our guard."

MDH has identified clusters where the B.1.1.7. strain has circulated in communities and is investigating, specifically those who are students in middle and high school, as well as student-athletes involved in team sports. Dr. Lynfield added that the B.1.1.7. strain is believed to be more contagious in comparison to the other two.

Even with vaccination availability increasing, Minnesotans are still vulnerable to contracting these strains. MDH reiterated the importance of social distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands and keeping groups to a minimum to fight off these strains.