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South Dakota to open vaccines to all adults next week

March 31, 2021 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Anyone in South Dakota over 16 years of age will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination starting on Monday.

Gov. Kristi Noem’s announcement Wednesday followed a recent uptick in cases statewide. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 34%, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. But state health officials also reported that 43% of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and about 65% of those people have completed vaccination, which requires two shots in most cases.

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More than 400,000 people in South Dakota will be eligible for the vaccine with the broadening of eligibility next week. Health officials said the timeline for vaccinating them depends on how many doses the state receives and how willing people are to be vaccinated. The state expects its supply of vaccines to increase significantly in the coming weeks.

Vaccines will be made available for free through health care providers and at pharmacies statewide.

“There will not be the heavy hand of government mandating that you get the vaccine,” Noem said in a video announcement. “Instead, we will do what we always do. We’ll trust our people to do the right thing.”

No states have mandated that the general public get a vaccine.

The governor credited former President Donald Trump for initiating a vaccine development program, saying President Joe Biden is “yielding the fruits” of those efforts.

Meanwhile, Biden and top health officials have warned that despite vaccines becoming widely available, Americans are declaring victory over the pandemic too early and letting their guard down against stopping infections.

State Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon echoed those warnings, asking people to “just hang in there for a few more months so that we can avoid unnecessary cases and more death.”

She said even if people are fully vaccinated they should adhere to precautions such as wearing masks, keeping their distance and washing their hands if they come into close contact with those who are not yet vaccinated.

In South Dakota, cases and deaths from the virus have declined since peaking late last year. But Josh Clayton, the state epidemiologist, warned that variants of the virus pose a renewed threat because they are believed to spread more easily and lead to more severe sickness.

The Department of Health reported 2,522 people have active infections statewide, with 104 hospitalized. The state has recorded 1,935 deaths among people with the virus.