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Will pandemic politics have lasting impact in Vermont?

Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 2:18 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 5:12 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Pandemic politics have been taking on a new meaning as Vermonters across the political spectrum continue to debate who should be getting the vaccine and when.

With state health officials continuing to say that the home stretch is within sight, Democrats are calling on Republican Governor Phil Scott to expand his age-based approach to vaccination to include other vulnerable cohorts including college students and prison inmates.

“He chose to prioritize vaccine distribution by age while other data was available and while other stakeholders were advocating for a different strategy,” said Asha Carroll with the Vermont Democratic Party.

Vermont leads the nation in vaccinations for those over 65 and also has one of the lowest death rates. Governor Scott says he isn’t surprised politics is mixing with vaccines, but he stresses that his decisions aren’t made in a vacuum and that his team advises him on every policy decision. “We’re dealing with a finite amount of vaccine coming into the state and we’re distributing it in a way that we think is the most effective and efficient, regardless of politics,” he said during Tuesday’s pandemic briefing.

Analysts say the political tension over who gets their shot is playing out beyond Vermont’s borders. “All across the country, the bloom is off the rose for governors dealing with the pandemic. People are fatigued and they want it all to be over,” said Bert Johnson, a political science professor at Middlebury College. He says Vermont is transitioning into a new phase where any decision of who gets the shot next could be controversial, and opponents are poised to use those decisions for political ammunition. Honest people can disagree on these kinds of decisions and it’s not as simple as implementing public health guidelines early in the pandemic.”

Other political observers agree. Vermont Public Radio host Jane Lindholm has covered every COVID briefing since the pandemic began and says there have been inconsistencies in vaccine prioritization for prison inmates and parents of immunocompromised children. “I think there was an opening for confusion and probably for some political anger and some real anger from people who said you’re not applying the science or your own priorities consistently in these two groups,” she said

Caregivers of immunocompromised kids can now get the shot, and with state leaders promising a return to normalcy by July, it’s unclear if Vermonters will remember these political disagreements in the months ahead or at the ballot box.

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