Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday the state is on course to exceed a goal set by President Joe Biden to soon open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults.

"We are very confident that everybody in Minnesota that wants the vaccine will be eligible by May 1, and even before that time," Malcolm said. "Now that doesn't mean that everybody's going to be vaccinated by May 1. But they'll be eligible and they'll be in line to get it."

The comment came during a public briefing led by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Dean Phillips Wednesday night that focused on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Malcolm and two other health experts answered questions in an effort to encourage more Minnesotans to get vaccinated.

As of Monday, 15.5% of Minnesota's population was fully vaccinated, according to state health data and a Star Tribune analysis. Three vaccines are being used in Minnesota.

As the vaccines become more widely available, elected officials and public health experts are likely to face the challenge of persuading those with reservations about the vaccine to get their shots.

Malcolm pledged, "We will continue to make a priority to make sure that we are reaching out to, and finding, those people who are at greatest risk to get them to the front of the line, if you will."

The governor's office announced in a news release this week that Minnesota "has administered 88.55% of vaccine doses it has received," which put it first in the nation by that mark. But that came after Minnesota struggled by that same measure and was among the worst in the country as it tried to get shots in arms earlier in the vaccine rollout.

Not all Minnesotans are yet eligible to get the vaccine, but a state health department spokesman said in an e-mail that health officials "expect the governor to be making an announcement about further eligibility in the next week or so." Those eligible at the moment include the state's essential front-line workers and people 65 and older.

The current phase of vaccination access also includes people between the ages of 16 and 44 who have at least two underlying medical conditions and Minnesotans in the 45-64 age range with at least one, according to the state health department.

Phillips emphasized that "there is no cost to being vaccinated in the United States."

"I do encourage all of you, even those of you who are hesitant, may have read some information that made you concerned, I encourage you to all take the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to you," Phillips said.

State health officials have also warned recently about coronavirus variants and the risks they pose. State epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said earlier this week there's an indication that the variant first noticed in the United Kingdom is seeing "widespread transmission," in the state.

Wednesday night's briefing came just over a year after Smith and Phillips held a similar call as the public health crisis swept across the country. Both Smith and Phillips are vaccinated.

A year into the pandemic, Smith urged continued vigilance.

"But we also are so optimistic about these vaccines that are more and more increasingly available to Minnesotans," Smith said.

Staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.

Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559

Twitter: @huntermw