70-plus age group floods Vt. vaccination website, phone line

Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 6:53 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2021 at 5:37 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s next phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout began Tuesday with a dash to get registrations for those in the 70-plus age group. And with more vaccines being promised by the federal government, state officials say the process is moving along well.

Starting at 8:15 a.m., the state’s call center was flooded in the first 15 minutes with about 7,000 callers. Those in that age group are strongly encouraged to sign up online. ”It is going to be jammed, but then we find that it subsides substantially in the afternoon hours or the next day,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

Officials said that with the strong demand, they are now nearly halfway through signing up the 70-plus group. Meanwhile, Vermonters who already got their first shot described a seamless process. “Easy, easy. They had chairs waiting for me there. I brought a cane in case I had to stand. They had chairs there. All I needed was a magazine to read,” said George Larrabee of Woodbury.

State leaders estimate it will be about two weeks before we move onto the next age band comprised of 44,000 residents 65 and over. And then, those 18 to 65 with underlying conditions. Some say that group should be vaccinated sooner. “Even though it’s more complicated, they could be doing more for people with severe underlying conditions that put them at great risk. That bothers me a little, but other than that I think they’re doing a great job,” said Kathy Shapiro of Middlesex.

At the same time, more doses are on the way to the state and to pharmacies. About 2,500 more are coming next week, bringing the state’s weekly allocation to some 14,000.

Federal regulators are also reviewing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- a single shot with 66% efficacy. Emergency use authorization could come by the end of the month. Scott says he’d take the Johnson & Johnson and that any vaccine is better than no vaccine. “If it prevents you from hospitalization and dying and gives you more mobility in a short period of time, those are pretty good selling features in itself,” he said. And Scott says the company is promising 100 million doses by the end of June. “That would mean a lot for Vermont if they continue to distribute per capita as they have been.”

State leaders are still mulling over CDC guidance last week for people who have been fully vaccinated. Scott says there will be updated state guidance for what people can and can’t do but he says it will be narrow.

An estimated 78,200 Vermonters have gotten at least one shot.


While case numbers in Vermont are still elevated, state officials Friday said modeling shows they are expected to remain flat in the coming weeks, a sign that the state’s vaccination strategy is working to protect our oldest residents. The U.S. continues to see the rapid decrease in cases this week,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

Nationally, COVID cases have dropped 65% in the last month and deaths are down 24%. It’s a similar story in the Northeast where cases are down 57% in the last month, dropping below 100,000 new cases in a week for the first time since November. “We can really see the vast improvement that’s occurring in almost every corner of every state in the region,” Pieciak said.

Looking more specifically at Vermont, cases are declining but more slowly. But Pieciak says they are already seeing the impacts of the state’s vaccine rollout start to show up. The weekly average of COVID cases is down 70% for those in the 75-plus population from mid-January and deaths in the state are down overall too because of that. There are only four active outbreaks at long-term care facilities compared to 12 just a month ago. “This is a trend we hope will continue as we vaccinate more and more of our vulnerable population,” Pieciak said.

But more counties are being warned about unusually high numbers of active cases. Essex County is now joining Bennington, Rutland, and Franklin Counties as measuring well above the average of other Vermont counties. Health officials say at least in Franklin County, outbreaks are not the main driver of cases. “The cause driving these cases overall appears to be community transmission, rather than outbreaks, as we have seen in the other counties,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

They’re urging everyone to continue following health and safety guidance.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 53 new coronavirus cases for a total of 13,917. There have been a total of 191 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.6%. A total of 319,510 people have been tested, 217 travelers are being monitored, 13,122 have completed monitoring, and 10,803 have recovered.

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