Vermont officials concerned with rising cases in areas with low vaccination rates

Coronavirus

MONTPELIER – Vermont officials say the effort to get booster shots in the arms of eligible Vermonters is off to a strong start, but Governor Phil Scott and his administration are also focused on bringing down high case counts in areas of the state where vaccination rates have stalled.

As of Tuesday, Orleans County had the highest positivity rate in Vermont – 1,531 cases per 100,000.

“That’s almost three times the statewide average,” said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

Smith and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine have been in touch with Orleans County legislators as they attempt to bring the county’s vaccination rate up, which currently sits 8 percent below the statewide average.

Smith said there’s likely going to be more ‘barnstorming’ events, which brought a series of clinics to hard-to-reach areas earlier this year.

“I want to be clear, this is not intended as finger pointing at any one part of our state, rather it is a reflection of the data we see roll in nightly,” Smith said.

“I am 100 percent unconvinced that people in Orleans County who have chosen not to be vaccinated will never be vaccinated,” Dr. Levine said.

Meanwhile, in the early days of Vermont’s booster expansion, over 3,400 people have made appointments on the state website, while many will likely opt to get their booster through a pharmacy or primary care provider.

Vermont currently ranks second in the nation when it comes to people 65 and older getting their boosters.

“They’re the ones we’re most concerned about,” Dr. Levine said. “We’re far less concerned about a 25/year-old who is completely healthy and may be ready for their booster. We’re much more worried about the people who are at much higher risk and vulnerable.”

And while some Vermont counties haven’t been able to cut down on cases, the state as a whole is starting to see a downturn. Case counts dropped 15 percent this past week, but in that same span, hospitalization rates among the unvaccinated continued to rise.

Scott once again responded to new calls for a State of Emergency, this time from nine state lawmakers and half a dozen medical professionals who held a press conference at the State House on Monday.

“There’s a time and a place for a State of Emergency, and I can assure you this isn’t it,” Governor Scott said. “We’ll get through this, I believe we’re all working to overcome this, and I’m hopeful with the numbers we’re seeing.”

Before Tuesday’s news conference, Scott and other administration officials invited cameras in as they received their flu shots.

The Vermont Department of Health believes its important for everyone to get their flu shots this year, because flu viruses and COVID are likely spreading at the same time. It’s safe to get a flu shot the same day you receive a COVID vaccine or booster.

Scott said he’s hoping to get his booster this week, once he decides which one to get following the CDC’s approval of ‘mix-and-match’ boosters.

“The good news is, all three are effective so you can’t go wrong, but I’m always looking to get the edge any way I can so I’m going to do my homework and determine what’s best for me,” Scott said.

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