BEMIDJI -- Thousands of coronavirus vaccines have been administered to Beltrami County residents and officials want the numbers to keep rising.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, as of April 20, a total of 17,581 Beltrami County residents had received at least one dose and 14,001 had completed their vaccine series. Sanford Health in Bemidji has been a big contributor, as it has administered about 20,000 doses as of April 22.

Health providers began administering the first doses in December and since then the state government has steadily expanded the eligibility for who can receive the vaccine.

Data from MDH shows how the following age groups have been vaccinated in Beltrami County:

  • 178 vaccines administered for the 16-17 age group.
  • 6,736 adults between the ages of 18 and 49.
  • 4,556 adults between the ages of 50 and 64.
  • 6,111 adults 65 and older.
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However, Beltrami County Public Health Director Cynthia Borgen said many more people have to take the step of scheduling an appointment to keep building protection for the community.

"The pace is slowing," Borgen said. "We still have people coming back for their second vaccine, but we're struggling getting new people interested in the vaccine series, and that's what it's going to take for us to close out this pandemic. Getting more people vaccinated."

One of the concerns Borgen shared about the situation is how informed people are about the vaccines.

"There are so many confusing messages out there and a lot of people get their messaging from social media that really aren't necessarily accurate," Borgen said. "We really encourage people to look for accurate information."

Borgen said she's also heard some are worried that the vaccines were developed too fast. In response, Borgen said, "The technology used for all of the vaccines has been available, it was just applied to the SARS-COV-2 virus. We're seeing a success rate now in keeping people from getting the disease that's very similar to the clinical trials."

The pause on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was also addressed by Borgen, who said a federal system that tracks adverse reactions noticed that there were six cases out of 7 million where clotting occurred.

"That's not just for the COVID vaccine, it's for all vaccines," Borgen said. "But it's especially true with the COVID vaccine since we're under an emergency use authorization. So, the government wanted to take a look at it. We're expecting to find out what the recommendation is for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and we're hopeful that we'll be back to being able to offer that maybe as soon as next week."

RELATED: See the latest COVID-19 vaccine information for Bemidji and surrounding areas

As vaccines do continue to be administered, Borgen said it's important for residents to stay on guard by still wearing their masks.

"We know we have variants circulating in the community, and those are more transmissible than the COVID we were dealing with a few months ago," Borgen said. "People can feel more relaxed now if they're in a small group who've been vaccinated, but when you're out in public with strangers, it's still important to wear your mask."

Since the pandemic reached Minnesota in March 2020, Beltrami County has recorded 3,760 cases as of Friday, April 23, and Borgen said her department is actively tracking 54 cases.

"That's been kind of bouncing up and down over the last couple of weeks," Borgen said. "If we're looking at the month of April, we've been averaging between nine and 10 cases per day. That's up from February and March, but nowhere near what November looked like. We have seen that cases in older adults are not as high as they were earlier in the pandemic."

Borgen encourages those interested in getting the vaccine from her department to call Beltrami County Public Health at (218) 333-8140. People can also schedule COVID-19 vaccines through Sanford Health by calling their hotline at (877) 701-0779 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Sanford Health patients can also schedule online on the My Sanford Chart service. Sanford Health also has an online portal to schedule a vaccine for those who are not past patients.