Minnesota rounded up to a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 61% on Wednesday, bringing it closer to its 70% trigger for ending its mask mandate and shielding more people against a pandemic that has caused 7,255 deaths and 590,436 known infections in the state.

The pandemic totals include 15 COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday and 919 more infections with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease.

Minnesota's 70% goal is based on the percentage of people 16 and older who have received at least a first dose and won't change despite federal approval for people age 12 to 15 to receive Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

The state's vaccination rate of 60.7% amounts to nearly 2.7 million recipients — and includes nearly 2.2 million people who have completed the one- or two-dose series.

Gov. Tim Walz has pledged to end Minnesota's indoor mask mandate on July 1, or sooner, if the state reaches its vaccination goal. Although vaccinations of those 12 to 15 won't affect that decision, Minnesota health officials encouraged parents to seek the shots for their children to protect them and prevent them from spreading the virus to vulnerable older people.

Minnesota on Wednesday reported a slight uptick to 6% in the positivity rate of diagnostic testing — a key indicator of viral transmission and a reminder that the latest pandemic wave isn't over despite recent declines in infections and hospitalizations. There were 471 COVID-19 cases admitted to Minnesota hospital inpatient beds on Tuesday.

"Every person who gets vaccinated helps us slow the spread of this disease and protect those who cannot get vaccinated," state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices OK'd the shots for the younger age group on Wednesday, following the emergency authorization granted Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The age cutoff for the two-dose Moderna and single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines remains 18.

Allina Health and the CVS pharmacy chain started taking appointments Wednesday to vaccinate newly eligible children.

Overall vaccination progress leaves Minnesota 410,485 first doses short of its 70% goal, which health officials believe would further reduce viral spread in Minnesota.

At the current pace, Minnesota is expected to reach that goal in the second week of June.

However, Walz on Tuesday acknowledged that progress has slowed. A week ago the state was seeing a percentage point increase in vaccinations every three days but that is now at four days.

"This is the time to work," said Walz, commending businesses and health care providers that have offered easier access to vaccine.

The 15 deaths reported Wednesday included one resident of a long-term care facility — a sign of vaccine effectiveness because these residents were prioritized for initial doses earlier this winter.

The deaths also included a Dakota County resident in the 40 to 44 age range.

People are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after their final shot.

Among the 1.9 million people who meet that criteria in Minnesota, the state has identified 1,942 who suffered confirmed or probable breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infections anyway.

The total includes 21 deaths and 175 hospitalizations. Some of the hospitalizations were for other reasons, though, and the infections were found through routine screening.

Health officials said the risk of breakthrough infections supports the need for more vaccinations — to reach a level of immunity that stifles spread of the virus. The current rate means that .1% of fully vaccinated people have suffered breakthrough infections.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744