SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota officials say they'll start offering COVID-19 vaccines to those age 80 and older and those with two or more underlying conditions on Monday, Jan. 18, an acceleration of the state's distribution plan sped up by new federal recommendations.

The South Dakota Department of Health announced its updated vaccination plan Wednesday, Jan. 13, which will shortly move to offering vaccinations to seniors and high risk individuals — a group designated 1D. While the state will start age-based vaccinations with those age 80 and older, the group will be expanded to those age 65 and older as vaccines come available.

Federal officials on Tuesday, Jan. 12, urged states to began offering vaccinations to those age 65 and older, who have proved particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The federal government has said it plans to release additional vaccines to speed up the number of nationwide vaccinations, which has lagged supply in many states.

South Dakota has bucked that trend, and is a top state in the nation in terms of vaccines administered to its population. As of Wednesday, 39,954 South Dakotans have received at least an initial dose of the available duo of two-shot vaccines, or 4.5% of the state's population. The state has initially prioritized healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and first responders.

“Given the progress we’ve seen in groups (1)A through C, we are confident that with an increase in vaccine allocations, we can move into a limited population of group 1D. We will begin with those 80 and over and high-risk individuals, and from this starting point, adjust accordingly as allocation permits,” said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, Secretary of Health, in a news release. “We want to reassure those who’ve already received their first dose, and those in groups A through C who are already in the queue, that their second-dose will be available.”

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More information about who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine is available on the state's COVID-19 page: https://doh.sd.gov/COVID/Vaccine/Public.aspx

Officials in charge of Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccination development and distribution effort, said this week they'll boost weekly allocations to states no longer based on population, but on the size of the state's population of those age 65 and older, factoring in how quickly each state is administering the vaccine to the public.

The new parameters could mean a significant increase of COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped to South Dakota, whose population includes a large number of senior citizens and whose vaccination program has been leading the nation for administered vaccinations.

“Given our strong partnerships with stakeholders, and the nonstop efforts of our health care systems, the Department of Health is proud to say that South Dakota remains among the top states in the country in vaccination efforts — shots in arms, that’s our goal,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

The vaccination distribution plan change comes as South Dakota health officials reported 19 new COVID-19 fatalities in the state, raising the pandemic death toll to 1,604. There were 452 people newly tested positive for the virus, raising the state's all-time total to 104,195 or about one in eight South Dakotans.

On Wednesday, 4,762 South Dakotans were listed as active cases, or those having testing positive for COVID-19 and still considered able to transmit the virus. The number of active cases has continued to slide as South Dakotans emerges out of a surge in the virus from August to December.

There are 253 people currently hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19, the state Health Department reported Wednesday. The number of hospitalizations have slumped in recent weeks but has hovered in the mid-200s in the last seven days.

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