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Vermont COVID Briefing Reviews Vaccination and School Plans

Vermont Statehouse
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse (file)

Vermont’s regular Friday COVID briefing included discussion on how the state will respond to a pending federal decision regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause. Later in the day, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced after a panel of experts voted that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19, and its benefits outweigh the known risks.

As Vermont officials began their regular Friday COVID update for residents, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices was convening a meeting to decide whether a pause imposed on using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine should be lifted. Republican Governor Phil Scott says his administration would be closely following the proceedings. 

“In Vermont we’re preparing for a resumption of the use of these vaccines so we’re ready if all goes well," Scott said. "If the feds give the green light we’ll be ready to start using J&J again next week.”

Scott said while optimistic he also doesn’t want to get people’s hopes up that the pause would be lifted. 

“If the committee decides or the CDC and the FDA decide not to move forward with the Johnson & Johnson we won’t have the supply we need to get out and to use the strategies that we’re planning," The governor said Friday. "So we should know more by tomorrow morning.”

Agency of Human Services Deputy Secretary Jenney Samuelson said they have been creating vaccine distribution plans whether or not the Johnson & Johnson serum is available. 

"Depending on the outcomes of the Advisory Committee we could begin vaccinating as early as Tuesday in the Northeast Kingdom," Samuelson said. "If a recommendation comes out this evening we’ll likely have more specific information to share on Vermont’s plans as early as Saturday morning. I am happy to share that we have reached another milestone this week.  More than 300,000 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And at 56% of eligible Vermonters vaccinated with at least one dose we are closing in on achieving the second steps in Governor Scott’s Vermont Forward Plan.”

Vermont tests school teachers and staff for COVID-19 on a rotating basis. But this past week some were closed for spring break. Vermont Agency of Education Secretary Daniel French said that led to a lower than normal 20 percent participation, but resulted in the third week with no positive cases of the virus. 

“With the vaccination of school staff nearly complete we have decided to end the surveillance testing program for school staff after next week," French said. "In its place we are working with the Health Department to organize a pilot surveillance testing program for students in schools and summer programs. We’ll be using new funding from the CDC to pay for the program.”

French also reported the Agency of Education will release guidelines that allow proms and graduations to occur this spring. 

“Both graduations and end of school year celebrations including proms will be permitted but will need to follow the safety requirements outlined in our Safe and Healthy Schools guidance and the Vermont Forward Plan," French said. "These celebrations are not only being permitted this year but also being strongly encouraged. This has been a long year for our students and our schools and we want to do whatever we can to insure the school year ends in a safe and celebratory way.”

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