ST. PAUL — Any Minnesotan aged 16 or older will become eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot starting Tuesday, March 30, Gov. Tim Walz announced Friday, March 26.

With more vaccines set to come to the state from the federal government beginning in April, the first-term DFL governor said Minnesota would join the more than half of states planning to expand eligibility criteria before the end of next month.

"I can’t tell you how excited I am for the state of Minnesota," Walz said, pledging that the vaccine delivery infrastructure would be able to absorb the additional doses promised by the federal government

The move significantly expands the current pool of those who can get a vaccine and shortens the state's expected timeline for getting a shot to all residents who want one by more than a month. The governor said the state was on pace to meet the Biden Administration's May 1 goal of getting Minnesotans queued up for a shot and set an end of May target for all Minnesotans to get their first shot, if they choose.

Right now, Minnesotans ages 65 or older, targeted essential workers, and people with underlying or rare conditions or disabilities that put them at a higher risk for COVID-19 are prioritized for vaccination. Health care providers with access to the vaccine will still have discretion over the order in which their patients can get it when eligibility expands next week, officials said during Friday's news broadcast.

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"We have explicitly directed our healthcare providers to be looking for their patients who are at higher risks," Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

Roughly 27% of Minnesotans have received the first dose of vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, 16% have received the completed two-shot series of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, according to the state health department.

Earlier this week, Minnesota led the nation in the percentage of vaccine doses administered. And state health officials reported that priority groups had been able to get vaccinated at encouraging rates, with 80% of older Minnesotans having received COVID-19 vaccines since the state opened up eligibility late last year.

Roughly two-thirds of school and child care staff have also received their shots.

Though shipments of doses sent to Minnesota are slated to increase in tandem with the state's expansion of vaccine eligibility, Friday's announcement was from a promise that every resident will be able to get a shot in short order. Rather, Walz said it "means you’re in line" for one.

Watch the announcement at 11:30 a.m.:

The continued practice of social distancing, use of face masks and adherence to other public health recommendations will still be necessary until such time as a sufficient number of residents have been vaccinated, officials said.

Officials endeavored on Friday to encourage Minnesotans to seek the vaccine and to tout its safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Malcolm pointed to the battery of clinical trials conducted for them as demonstrative of both.

Appearing alongside her and Walz that afternoon, Dr. Abraham Jacob, chief quality officer for the MHealth Fairview system, added Minnesota has reported "remarkably few" instances of adverse side affects stemming from vaccination.

According to Jacob, the several dozen instances of "breakthrough" COVID infections diagnosed in Minnesotans who were already vaccinated further underscores the need to take safety precautions even after getting a shot. He said post-vaccine infections are often asymptomatic, meaning one could spread expose others to the disease without even realizing they have it.

Though officials have said that they expected breakthrough infections to occur, they have so far affected only a fraction of the vaccinated public.

Steps taken Friday nonetheless made it a "great day," according to Jacob.

"It’s going to be a really good spring and even better summer," he said.

Earlier this week, Minnesota led the nation in the percentage of vaccine doses administered. And state health officials reported that priority groups had been able to get vaccinated at encouraging rates, with 80% of older Minnesotans having received COVID-19 vaccines since the state opened up eligibility late last year.

Roughly two-thirds of school and child care staff have also received their shots.

MORE ON COVID-19 VACCINES:

In an effort to ensure greater equity in vaccinations, the state also said that it would put on more mobile vaccination clinics and localized events in the coming weeks. With the presence of COVID-19 variants on the rise, Malcolm said that getting more shots into the arms of Minnesotans would be key.

As of Tuesday, the state reported that 3,321 Minnesotans ages 16-17 have received at least one dose of vaccine. And another 448,278 residents ages 18-49 had received at least one dose of vaccine.

State officials encouraged Minnesotans to sign up for the state's Vaccine Connector to help them find a slot to get their vaccination and to reach out to their doctor or local pharmacist about upcoming appointments.

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