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Vermont vaccination rollout stymied by federal distribution

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 7:45 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 7:33 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Governor Phil Scott Tuesday said Vermont is among the top states in rolling out the coronavirus vaccine so far, but admitted more needs to be done to get more people vaccinated faster.

Vermont has so far received 30,000 doses and has administered 17,653. That’s the seventh-best rate in the country and twice as fast as the national average. As of Tuesday, the state is a quarter of the way through group 1A -- health care workers and long- term care facilities. While Scott says the state is on the right track, a lot of remains out of our control. “I think we’re doing pretty well, but we can do better and we will do better,” Scott said.

Health officials say there’s a lag time in getting the vaccine into Vermonters’ arms because they can’t schedule vaccine appointments until the vaccine arrives. And with continuing supply chain issues at the federal level, they can’t schedule appointments as far out as they would like. “If you look at a statistic right now, it’ll look like none of those doses have been used. And as each day goes by, only a quarter of them will be used, so it may look like we’re behind,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

And more vaccines could be on the way. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved in the U.K., and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be coming by the end of the month. Once Vermont has a consistent supply, Scott says a widespread vaccination campaign can begin. “We will ramp up our efforts to distribute the vaccines as quickly as we receive them. And it would be helpful if we knew what that supply chain looked like and we knew how much we were going to get each week on a consistent basis,” Scott said.

And as vaccinations ramp up, Levine says they are keeping an eye on the more infectious variant of the coronavirus -- B117. There is no evidence the new strain is more deadly, but he says it could spread faster and put more Vermonters in the hospital. Levine says he doesn’t agree with plans in the U.K. to give just one shot to get more people vaccinated. He said that would be “off label” use and he worries it won’t be as effective as getting two doses.

The state is still moving forward with its plan for the next phase of vaccinations for people 75 and older and those with health conditions like heart disease, emphysema, COPD, cancer, and people who got an organ donation. Levine urged people to not call or write, and that Vermonters will know when it’s their turn.

OFFICIALS URGE TESTING FOR THOSE WHO DIDN’T FOLLOW GUIDELINES

Gov. Scott and Levine urged Vermonters who may not have followed state COVID guidelines over the holidays to get tested now to prevent a potential virus spike in the coming weeks.

“We are trying to prevent people from pain and suffering. we are focused on saving lives,” Scott said.

In order to get tested, individuals can call their health care provider, go to a participating pharmacy or urgent care, including Kinney Drugs, Walgreens, and ClearChoice, or you can register for a test at one of 15 locations on the health department’s website.

DATA SHOWS HOLIDAY TRAVEL INTO VERMONT REACHES PANDEMIC HIGH

As COVID cases continue to rise around the country, Vermont officials are also seeing concerning trends in the Northeast. COVID-19 cases went up 20 percent last week, with 176,000 new cases reported.

The latest state modeling shows it’s not just cases going up but hospitalizations too. They’re up 85% in the Northeast since December 1st and 13% percent since Christmas. Those numbers, compounded by holiday travel, are a major concern. Even though travel into Vermont for the holidays was down by half, it’s still the most travel into the state of any point during the pandemic so far.

Vermonters who live in ski resort towns tell WCAX that they’re seeing more and more out-of-state visitors and they’re concerned those visitors aren’t always following health protocols. When asked about that Tuesday, Governor Scott said there isn’t any conclusive data pointing to a connection between ski resorts and rising COVID-19 cases in southern Vermont, and that it’s up to the resorts to enforce the rules. “While we’re concerned, we’re monitoring the situation -- very difficult in some respects to step up enforcement,” he said.

Vermont is also bracing for an increase in cases, with the estimated active cases in the state trending back up to where it was back in early December. “We’re now 11 days out from Christmas and we need more time to understand the potential impact of that event, plus another 10 days or so to see the full impact of New Year’s Eve,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

And while it’s still too early to know the impact of the holidays, the health department’s contact tracers have learned of some cases connected to holiday gatherings. Depending on how well Vermonters abided by the rules, the state could either see a spike with a projected average of 200 cases per day by late-January. Or, without a spike, cases could stay flat at about 100 per day through the rest of the month. Commissioner Levine says they should have a better idea of which path the state is on by this Friday.

As of Monday, Vermont health officials reported a daily count of 165 new coronavirus cases for a total of 8,038. There have been a total of 149 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 2.8%. A total of 719,758 tests have been conducted, 307 travelers are being monitored, 11,885 have completed monitoring, and 5,463 have recovered.

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