Vermont’s governor and members of his administration gave their latest COVID-19 briefing today. It came as the state dealt with a deluge of calls as it opened appointments for the next eligible group in its age-based vaccination rollout.
People aged 70 and older could begin making appointments for a COVID-19 vaccination Tuesday morning. The Health Department reported receiving 7,000 calls in the first 15 minutes phone lines were open.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says by midmorning 11,000 people, or almost half the eligible population in the new age group, had signed up for an appointment. “We are currently vaccinating individuals 70 and above as well as those health care workers in group 1A and homebound Vermonters within the age group. We plan to move through the current Phase 3, which is the 70 years old and older that I just talked about, fairly quickly before moving on to Phase 4: Vermonters 65 years old and older.”
Governor Phil Scott joined the meeting about 45 minutes in. Since President Biden’s inauguration in January the White House has been updating the National Governors’ Association every Tuesday on COVID strategy. Scott reported that the governors were told the weekly vaccine allocation will again increase from 11 million to 13.5 million doses nationally. “That equates roughly to about 2,500 doses for Vermont every single week. So we should be seeing that this next week. So that’s great news. We also received an update on Johnson & Johnson. It’s still expected the FDA will grant emergency use authorization by the end of the month, but time will tell. But if approved J&J will begin distribution immediately including several million right away and more importantly a hundred million of these they’ve committed to by the end of June. So that is substantial and that would mean a lot for Vermont as well if they continue to distribute per capita as they have been.”
Governor Scott and administration officials were asked how Vermonters can trust reported COVID-19 numbers in the wake of questions about New York’s nursing home death data. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the state has been transparent throughout the pandemic and coordinates with the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, which has regulatory oversight of long-term care facilities. “We closely coordinate all of our outbreak management with them, closely coordinate our statistics with them and with the knowledge that they can help support facilities when staffing becomes an issue as well. So I think we have checks and balances built in and frankly I can say we’ve had no reason to hide any numbers. There was no motivation you know from a political or health standpoints to do such.”
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented during the briefing, Vermont is ranked second in the Northeast and 10th in the nation in the number of people vaccinated on a per capita basis. The state ranks seventh nationally in fully vaccinating its population.