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More young Vermonters need shots; vaccine clinics taking walk-ins

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 7:48 AM EDT|Updated: May. 4, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - State officials say trends are still improving here and around the country, despite a slight bump in cases from last week in Vermont.

At their Tuesday pandemic news briefing, state officials reported that COVID infections rose 23% among Vermonters under the age of 40 this week. But they dropped 22% among people older than 40. They say vaccination likely accounts for the difference.

About 78% of people over age 40 have gotten at least one vaccine dose so far compared to just 41% of those under the age of 40.

Almost 95% of seniors have been vaccinated, but the administration says we still need more 18- to 29-year-olds to sign up for shots. They say we are slightly below the national average in that age group.

VERMONT FIRST IN THE NATION FOR VACCINE ADMINISTRATION

Vermont is leading the nation in the rate of overall vaccine administration, but those rates among young people are lagging, so the state is trying to change that.

Locally and regionally our case data is looking good. Vermont is recording the lowest two-week case count since November.

Vermont is now first in the nation for overall vaccine administration but we’re lagging behind in the rate of young people seeking the shot.

“We’re in the last few laps of this race. This isn’t the time to let up. Now is the time to focus and finish off with a win,” said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

That’s why the state wants to make it easier for people to access shots.

Home to decades of local stock car racing, leaders are turning to Thunder Road Speedbowl, using the quarter-mile short track as a drive-in clinic, no appointment necessary.

They are also adding clinics at fairgrounds, college campuses and downtown centers such as Church Street in Burlington.

“In an attempt to get as many people vaccinated as possible by making it easy and convenient,” Vt. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

And up to 27,000 adolescents, 12-15, may get the greenlight for the Pfizer shot next week.

The state is already talking with pediatricians and schools, and parents will have to be on board, too.

“We expect there to be strong uptake in that group,” Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.

Demand for the shot is still high here, where other states have an unused surplus.

The federal government is creating a vaccine pool where Vermont can buy up to 10,000 doses from other states.

With April behind us, Vermont now sets its sights on the next reopening benchmark, June 1, which eliminates quarantine and testing requirements.

The governor stresses getting there depends on all of us, especially young people.

Like 14 months ago, the governor calls the coming weeks a moment of service.

“If you want to attend concerts fairs and festivals, if you want restaurants and bars to stay open past 10, do your part and get vaccinated,” Scott said.

The governor says in order to hit our next reopening benchmark, we’ll need up to 85% of those over 16 to sign up.

And as we may be opening up a new age band soon, leaders say that the idea of giving out free creemees with a shot is still in the works. They’re just working on deploying around 10,000 creemee coupons.

Scott suggested everyone get a vaccine and send their mom a photo of it for Mother’s Day, saying it would mean a lot to her.

MORE VERMONT VACCINE CLINICS TAKING WALK-INS

Expect to see more opportunities for walk-ins and pop-up clinics for vaccines in addition to the mass vaccination sites already in existence. Many of those sites are on college campuses in the coming weeks. But any Vermonter can show up. There are also clinics planned for racetracks, fairgrounds and other sites where people may gather statewide.

Information about the clinics can be found on the Health Department’s website or by watching its social media feeds at www.healthvermont.gov/media/social. Registration is encouraged, but there are walk-in spots available, too.

All Vermonters age 16 and older are eligible for vaccines and can make appointments on the Health Department’s website or by calling 855-722-7878.

Vermont has been using all of its weekly allocation of vaccines to this point. Some 351,300 have vaccinated; 104,000 with their first dose and 247,300 with their first/last dose.

VERMONT ON TRACK FOR LOWER CASES IN JUNE

We saw a jump in cases in Essex County this week with spillover from counties in New Hampshire and Maine that saw higher cases. But overall, Vermont is still on track to continue seeing lower cases into June. And regionally, cases are expected to drop in the weeks to come.

Hospitalizations are steadily decreasing this week thanks to fewer people over age 60 needing hospitalization. And as more people get vaccinated and cases go down in those 40 and older, hospitalizations are expected to continue to go down.

Seventeen people in Vermont died last month from COVID-19. That’s expected to drop more this month.

KEEP UP PREVENTION EFFORTS

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine urged people to keep up with prevention measures, especially those who aren’t vaccinated because variants are a big factor in the spread of the coronavirus at this point here.

Levine said we’re still in a pandemic, pointing to places like India.

The health commissioner asked those who still haven’t gotten their shots how long they intend to wait. He said there is abundant evidence pointing to the fact that the vaccines are safe and they work. And saying they’re not hearing about any delayed side effects of the vaccine six months in.

He encouraged those with questions to seek out reputable information.

The commissioner also weighed in on comments made recently by national experts questioning whether we will reach herd immunity. Levine says we can do better and urged Vermonters not to settle.

CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH STILL A CONCERN

Outgoing Vermont Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell said mental health trends among children are still moving in the wrong direction.

She says more kids are reporting anxiety. And more youth are ending up in the emergency rooms with mental health issues, something our Calvin Cutler told you about on WCAX.

Now, state leaders are pitching a plan to clear the backlog of kids waiting in emergency rooms for mental health care, sometimes for days on end.

The state is issuing new guidance this week allowing facilities to restore beds that were lost because of social distancing restrictions.

And experts say returning to the classroom full time will help, as many students receive support and services in schools.

In the coming months, the state wants to invest in community mental health agencies and mobile response units. Those will bring mental health services to kids in their homes.

And the state is figuring out how to invest $8 million in services and residential treatment options.

“One of the primary issues that was contributing to that is the lack of step-down options for children in the Brattleboro Retreat at that time, indicating that some of our solutions need to be on residential capacity and step-down capacity,” said Sarah Squirrell, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health.

Mental health experts blame the backlog, which has grown during the last year, on pandemic capacity restrictions, staffing and seasonal changes.

The numbers, however, have decreased this month.

But they say a long-term solution lies in relieving our workforce issues and relieving pressures of insurance.

FDA EXPECTED TO SOON OK PFIZER VACCINE FOR TEENS

The FDA is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for children as young as 12 years old as soon as next week.

Dr. Levine says there are about 25,000 youth in that age group in Vermont, and the state expects kids will be eager to get a shot.

He said the timing will probably be next week sometime for that.

Smith said young people will likely have the option of going to a mass clinic or getting a shot at a school, saying parents will be involved.

Levine said five Vermont higher education schools have voiced the idea of mandating vaccines for the fall. More than 100 around the country have, as well, saying they’d prefer to have normal operations and doing so requires the student body to get vaccinated.

Regarding the state’s K-12 schools, the governor says he sees all the evidence pointing toward full in-person learning in the fall.

FAMILIES REUNITED AFTER VACCINATIONS

Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith cited a story our Joe Carroll brought you Monday night about a mother and daughter hugging for the first time after a year because they were both fully vaccinated. Smith says he knows them and it struck him that it’s one of the many reasons to get vaccinated.

THE NUMBERS

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 34 new coronavirus cases for a total of 23,191.

There have been a total of 248 deaths.

The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.1%.

A total of 382,403 people have been tested, and 20,732 have recovered.

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