MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the weeks leading up to the return to the classroom, more than 46,000 Minnesota students between the ages of 12 and 17 received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday.

In a statement, the governor said that Minnesota currently leads the Midwest in the percentage of adolescents fully vaccinated, among states reporting demographic data.

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“As governor, a teacher for 20 years, and a dad — I know how important it is that we do everything within our power to set our children up for a safe and healthy school year,” Walz said in a statement.

Since late July, when the state launched its “Vax to School” campaign, the percentage of Minnesotans 12-15 years old with at least one dose of the vaccine rose from 43% to 54.6%, the administration said. Likewise, the figure for 16 to 17-year-olds rose from 54.2% to 60.5%.

According to the latest vaccine data, 45% of 12-15 year olds are fully vaccinated while 54% of 60.5% have completed their vaccine series.

While the vaccination rates for Minnesota youth demographics have been rising, they remain the lowest in the state. It should be noted, however, the youths were among the last to be approved for the vaccine and, in general, face the least threat from the virus.

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No vaccine has been approved for children under 12. However, former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb predicted Sunday on Face the Nation that the Pfizer vaccine would be approved for emergency use in children ages 5-11 by the end of October.

With Minnesota students back in the classroom — some for the first time since the spring of 2020 — the Walz administration is continuing to urge students and families to get vaccinated so as not to return to distance learning.

Data from last year showed that Minnesota students scored dramatically worse on math and reading assessments after the pandemic disrupted school settings. The drop was particularly pronounced for Black and Hispanic students.

In recent weeks, the state has opened free vaccine clinics across the metro in partnership with the YMCA. The administration is also offering no-fee testing option for schools, which are able to set up their own COVID-19 testing programs.

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Last week, more than 100 Minnesota schools, ranging from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, reported COVID-19 infections, marking a slight increase from the week before.