ST. PAUL — Minnesota health and education leaders this week announced that they would launch a statewide push to get students 12 and older vaccinated against COVID-19 before they return to school this fall.

The campaign comes weeks before the kick-off of the 2021-22 academic year and as the delta variant has begun surging in Minnesota. State health officials on Thursday, July 29, urged all those who were eligible for the vaccine to get immunized against COVID-19 to limit spread in schools.

They also echoed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidance that everyone in school settings, including vaccinated individuals, should wear a mask to limit the spread of the illness.

Without a peacetime emergency in the state, Minnesota can't mandate the use of face masks, but school districts and local jurisdictions can require them and set penalties for not wearing them.

“In this instance, our most proactive measure is to ensure that we have vaccinations," Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said. "If you have not yet done so and you're not sure that you want to do that, it's not really only about you. It's about the students and the families that would like to but medically can't."

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The state on Thursday launched a video with teachers from around the state calling on students and families to get vaccinated. A full Pfizer vaccine series takes five weeks to administer and take effect, they said. And that would time out to get students and others fully vaccinated before the first day of school.

So far, roughly one in three Minnesotans between the ages of 12 and 15 has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and one-half of those ages 16 and 17 have received a two-dose set of the Pfizer vaccine. The vaccine has not yet been approved for those younger than 12.

"The time is now to really increase our rates of vaccination to make sure that we can protect in-person learning and protect our students and our staff who are in these facilities," Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "The good news is we're in much better shape than we were a year ago with better tools at our disposal, particularly the vaccines, but to the extent that we thought this was all behind us, I think we absolutely are clear now that this is still a very present danger."

Sheldon Berkowitz, president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, on Thursday, said misinformation had deterred some families from seeking out the vaccination. He said children and adolescents can be sickened with COVID-19 and 450 had been admitted to Children's Minnesota with more than 170 requiring intensive care.

"Let me be very clear, these vaccines are safe and effective in all currently approved ages," he said. "Vaccination is a crucial key to allowing our children and youth to return to their pre-pandemic lives including school, sports and social lives."

Berkowitz said parents should bring their concerns to their doctor and get a recommendation from them about the best course.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com