Minnesota health officials are trying to dispel misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine as some political figures continue to raise concerns and more than 1 million adults statewide remain unvaccinated.

"The problem with this is that for susceptible people, they're being misled and harmed," said Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine immunology specialist at Mayo Clinic. "We are losing about 1,000 Americans a day from COVID. … We've got [nearly] 100,000 Americans in the hospital."

While Minnesotans have yet to get the vaccine for a variety of reasons, two of the most frequently expressed concerns are fear about the safety of the shots and a feeling that the vaccines were rushed into use.

But the COVID-19 vaccines have been extensively studied and scrutinized, Poland said. While critics say health officials haven't acknowledged problems with them, he argued that it's doctors and public health officials in the U.S. who have been at the forefront of documenting vaccine risks — and showing how they're exceedingly small, particularly compared with the risks with the virus.

State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, is among those raising concerns about vaccine safety. He spoke at a rally last weekend opposing vaccine mandates along with other legislators and a few GOP gubernatorial candidates, including former state Sen. Scott Jensen, a physician who has sought to stop vaccinations for children. Abeler, chairman of the Senate's Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee, has scheduled a committee meeting in a couple of weeks in which vaccination requirements are one topic on the agenda.

"What has become discussed much more has been how safe indeed are these vaccines. And not that people shouldn't take them, but I fully think that they should be informed about the goods and the bads of them," said Abeler, who is a chiropractor. "It seems as though to consider that anything could be bad about this is to go against some kind of orthodox thing that we're all supposed to be rallying behind."

At last weekend's rally, where about 2,000 people gathered near the State Capitol, Abeler claimed a federal database shows that there had been more than 200 deaths in Minnesota from the vaccine.

"It's disinformation," said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "There have been no deaths documented in Minnesota that have been caused by the COVID-19 vaccine."

Abeler and advocates who oppose vaccine mandates have cited anecdotes from people who had negative vaccine side effects, and pointed to federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) data.

The data show 6,207 deaths were reported nationwide following COVID vaccinations — a number the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states is a tally of any death reported after a vaccination. Reports are not a determination that a vaccine caused any health problem, the CDC says. Anyone can submit a report to VAERS and the reports are unverified.

"This is a complete misunderstanding and misreading of those data," Poland said of people using the numbers as proof of problems with vaccine safety.

Meanwhile, a recently released National Institutes of Health-supported study determined COVID-19 vaccines prevented more than 139,000 deaths in the first five months they were available, from Dec. 21, 2020, to May 9.

Abeler wants to remove Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm from her post over the issue. He said he has counted Malcolm as "a very good acquaintance if not a friend," but no longer supports her because he said the health agency has not put out enough information about COVID-19 vaccine risks.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Michelle Benson was less certain about removing Malcolm. Benson, R-Ham Lake, said Wednesday that the Senate is taking another look at that.

"[Malcolm] is rolling out a digital vaccine reporter that would look like a passport and so we're going to have some pretty straightforward conversations with her about that," Benson said.

There has been an accumulating list of issues with the commissioner's handling of COVID-19, but "we haven't gotten to the point where she's actually violated something the Senate would vote on," she added.

Gov. Tim Walz supports Malcolm because of her tireless work to ensure Minnesotans' health and safety, Walz's spokeswoman Claire Lancaster said in a statement.

"While Governor Walz and his administration are listening to health experts to keep Minnesotans safe, Senate Republicans are promoting dangerous conspiracy theories and undermining the people who are leading through this pandemic," she said.

Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Christopher Snowbeck contributed to this report.