Vermonters 16 and older with high risk conditions will be able to sign up for the vaccine as soon as Thursday, earlier than anticipated.

Those 55 and older with an underlying condition began signing up Monday, but state leaders say less than 10,000 people have signed up. More than 8,000 teachers in Vermont have made their appointment to be vaccinated, as of Tuesday. Officials urge continued patience as more sites are set to open next week.

“We are in the final quarter of this very tough game,” said Gov. Phil Scott. “Let’s do all our part so we can exit the pandemic as quickly as possible.”

Vermont is already following new CDC guidance, where those vaccinated can gather in small groups without masks or distancing. For the rest of us, Governor Scott says we can expect new information on Friday. He says he will loosen restrictions on gatherings and this will impact restaurants, too. The governor says data shows it’s time to give Vermonters more freedom, while also keeping them safe.

“I believe this is the right step forward,” he said. “We’ll do it in a methodical and disciplined way, but this is just one small step.”

Health commissioner Mark Levine urged vigilance as the U.K. variant is now present in Vermont, as announced Monday. Doctor Levine also says the state needs to focus on vaccinating the BIPOC community. He says the group is over represented among the state’s cases. While making up just 6% of population, they represent 18% of cases in Vermont.

“Our goal to reach community immunity can only be achieved if we work to lessen the barriers and make vaccination equitably accessible to all Vermonters,” Dr. Levine said.

Levine says an eligible BIPOC Vermonter meeting the age requirement will be able to also bring other household members to be vaccinated.