Vaccinations for school staff, underlying health conditions open next week

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 7:33 AM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont officials announced Tuesday that the next phase of vaccinations next week will include all school staff as well as the first group of those with underlying health conditions.

Starting Monday the state is opening up vaccination appointments to public and private school teachers and staff, additional public safety employees, corrections staff, 911 operators, police lieutenants, and Vermonters 55 and up with underlying health conditions.

“These changes are focused on getting and keeping the public safety systems fully operational with an emphasis of the well-being of our kids,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

The state previously said they would get through all of the high-risk Vermonters first before moving onto other groups, but now they’re pivoting to vaccinating teachers as well, saying they view the additional weekly allocation of Johnson & Johnson doses as extras outside of the state’s vaccine allotments. ”We haven’t diverted any of the main vaccine supply for those that I would call our traditional-age banding. What we’ve used is our new availability of vaccine,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

Starting Monday, all 35,000 staff in public and private schools will be eligible to receive the one-dose shot or the other two-dose shots through pharmacies, though spouses and families of educators are not eligible.

Citing the immense psychological and developmental damage dealt to kids through the pandemic, the governor says getting kids back in the classroom is a must, and vaccinating teachers will help reach that goal. “We know getting our kids in class, in school for in-person instruction five days a week is essential,” Scott said.

Education officials applauded the decision to move them higher up in the vaccination schedule, saying it’ll help with staffing shortages caused by quarantines. “If the school bus drivers are healthy, students can get to school and if teachers stay healthy then we can make sure that all of these lessons are taught in person,” said Don Tinney with Vermont-NEA.

While teachers are moving up the list, other frontline workers like those in grocery stores are not. Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says that group isn’t seeing negative outcomes with the coronavirus. “The public is there at all times -- I understand that -- but that doesn’t mean your risk is heightened at all times,” he said.

With nearly half of the 65-plus age group registering for the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, officials said they will also begin appointments for those with underlying health conditions. They say Phase 5 will be broken into two parts. Those 55-plus with underlying conditions -- group 5a -- will be able to make an appointment on Monday, March 8 at 8:15 a.m. on the state’s website. Those who are 16-54 with underlying conditions -- group 5b -- can register for an appointment starting Monday, March 15. The total number of people in this phase 5 is estimated at 70,000. Ten underlying health conditions qualify under the state’s criteria.

VERMONT NATIONAL GUARD TO ASSIST VACCINATION CLINICS; WALMART JOINS PHARMACY EFFORT

The Vermont National Guard will be activated Wednesday to help with a vaccination clinic at the DoubleTree hotel in South Burlington, and then next week in Barre and Springfield.

Kinney Drugs will have a pop-up vaccination clinic for the 65-plus age group on Sunday, March 7, at Spaulding High School in Barre. Register on the Kinney website. Smith says Walmart is going to be offering shots under the state’s program and other pharmacies will also be joining the program in the coming weeks.

For those in a designated age group who are homebound and have not been contacted by the state yet, you can call to register for the vaccine starting Friday: 855-722-7878.

The state plans to open up vaccinations to people in the 60-plus age group later this month. So far, 106,300 Vermonters have been vaccinated, with about half of them -- or about 9% of the state population -- having had their second dose.

VIRUS CASES, HOSPITALIZATIONS, DEATHS LEVEL OFF

After weeks of sharply-dropping cases, Vermont health officials Tuesday reported a leveling out in the national data. It’s too soon to tell whether it’s a sign that the country is going in the wrong direction, especially as hospitalizations and deaths continue to trend down nationally.

Regionally, cases went up 8% -- the first time in many weeks. Vermont and New Hampshire were the only states that saw declines. Still, the regional forecast trends down into April. In Vermont, case counts are projected to steadily decline to about 50 per day by mid-April. Case counts dropped rates 19% in February, hospitalizations dropped 46%, and deaths dropped 67%.

Vermont continues to see the impact of vaccinations in the case counts. From mid-January to late-February there was a 77% drop in cases among those who are 75 and older. And just two long-term care facilities have outbreaks now. There were 10 fewer deaths in February compared to January.

VOLUNTARY TESTING CONTINUES AT SKI AREAS

Health officials continue to determine whether out-of-state residents are bringing coronavirus to Vermont. While it isn’t a scientific study, Vt. Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the information remains helpful.

“My takeaway from this data is not so much what we found, but what we didn’t find. This testing did not show high rates of COVID-19 being brought into the state. We were glad to see people interested in getting tested, helping us get a glimpse into what may be happening at these seasonal areas,” he said.

Levine also pointed out that cases in Bennington County have leveled off. There are only three COVID patients right now at Southwestern Medical Center in Bennington as opposed to 18 a month ago.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 70 new coronavirus cases for a total of 15,372. There have been a total of 206 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.4%. A total of 331,937 people have been tested, and 12,759 have recovered.

Copyright 2021 WCAX. All rights reserved.