MONTPELIER – Vaccine registration for the 70 and older age group opened up in Vermont on Tuesday, and it was met with big interest.
Within the first fifteen minutes of registration, the Vermont Department of Health received more than 7,000 phone calls. By early Tuesday evening, around 18,800 people had signed up – almost 57 percent of the entire age group.
I couldn’t be more pleased with this response,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. “Getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible is key to helping end this pandemic. There are always bumps along the way, and I thank everyone for their patience with any wait times and technical issues, but mostly for your support for vaccination and commitment to protecting your health and those of the people around you.”
Even before the numbers came in, Dr. Levine, Governor Phil Scott and Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith had an optimistic tone at Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing.
“We’re at 50 percent of the 75-plus, we opened up the 70-plus, we’ve had good response in the 70 plus, so I think very shortly, you’ll see us announce the 65-plus,” Smith said.
Dr. Levine said he’s encouraged that people who were reluctant to get vaccinated early in their eligibility period now appear to be joining in later in the process.
Behind the scenes, state officials are planning several steps to ‘turn the spigot’, and return some sense of normalcy to vulnerable populations, beginning with long-term care facilities.
“We are on the threshold of presenting an array of changes in visitation policies, communal dining and group activities,” Dr. Levine said.
Governor Scott said travel quarantine protocol for people who are fully vaccinated is also on the shortlist.
“There’s still many details we’re trying to work out, and I know there will be a lot of what-ifs that will come as a result,” Scott said. “I want to be clear, this will be very narrow at first.”
Meanwhile, during his Tuesday conference call with the Biden Administration, Scott and other governors were warned that winter storm impacting much of the nation is likely to affect vaccine distribution.
“They’re working hard to de-ice planes as we speak and make sure distribution is on track, but they said to be prepared,” Scott said. “There may be cancellations or postponements of some of the vaccines.”
There was also good news from Washington on the vaccine front – Johnson & Johnson is still on track to get emergency use authorization by the end of the month, and pharmacies’ vaccine allocation is set to double from 1 million to 2 million.
Scott mentioned, however, that the growing role of pharmacies in the vaccination process was a cause for concern among some governors, himself included.
“It takes things out of our control. We have some control now because we’re doing it by age banding,” Scott said. “We’re not as clear in some respects as to who it is in some of the private facilities, so again, we want to have partnerships, we utilize them and we’re thankful for that, but the way we’re doing it now is working.”
Eligible Vermonters can sign up and make an appointment to be vaccinated by visiting healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine. Anyone who is unable to make their appointment online, needs help signing up, or who needs to speak with someone in a language other than English can call 855-722-7878. The call center is open Monday to Friday 8:15 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.