MONTPELIER — More than 55,000 Vermonters have received COVID-19 vaccines, giving cause for some celebration.
“This successful statewide vaccination effort has many people to thank,” Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said at the governor’s twice weekly news conference on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, listing off state employees across different agencies, health care organizations hosting vaccination sites, and those who helped sign up and transport elderly residents eligible for the vaccine. “It’s been because of all these people that this has been a success. It’s been no one person, no one department, no one agency. It’s been a concerted effort of all Vermonters to make this happen, and I say thank you.”
Having administered 11.61 doses per 100 residents, Vermont ranks second in the Northeast and eighth nationally, said Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.
Smith said nearly 10 percent of eligible Vermonters received at least their first dose and 34,170 residents who are 75 and older are scheduled to get their first dose within the next five weeks. He said more than 14 percent of those in that age group have received their first dose, up from 6 percent last week.
Gov. Phil Scott arrived late, sharing news from a call he had just been on with the National Governors Association and White House officials. He said Vermont is set to start receiving more vaccine doses than it has in the last three weeks, estimating that it would add up to a more than 20 percent increase.
Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is starting a vaccination clinic this week. Smith said Grace Cottage in Townshend is anticipated to have a clinic in early February.
State officials are waiting for federal guidance on transporting vaccines to homebound Vermonters with the hope of starting those deliveries by the end of the week.
Smith said they also established a working group to look at when to start allowing congregate dinging in long-term care facilities, a decision which has to do with how long it takes for the vaccine to build up immunity in the residents.
“Our seniors living at long-term care facilities have been isolated for far too long and it is our hope to re-establish those social connections as soon as possible,” he said.
About 85 percent of long-term care residents have elected to receive their first dose of a vaccine, Smith said. He urged those who are 75 and older who haven’t registered to do so by visiting healthvermont.gov/myvaccine or calling 855-722-7878.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine noted there were 60 hospitalizations due to the virus on Monday and 54 on Tuesday, with a large portion being in Bennington County.
“The rest of the state is exhibiting some stability,” he said. “Fortunately Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is coping very well with this added clinical load ... We continue to monitor that situation very closely in addition to the higher cases generally in that part of the state. Our teams have not pinpointed any one cause for the spread in Bennington County.”
State officials were made aware of larger gatherings held in Bennington County before the holidays that led to some outbreaks, Levine said, linking some cases to New York residents who work in the county or receive their medical care in Bennington and noting there have been a lot of visitors to the area for skiing. He described the county’s case count data looking more like adjoining New York counties than those in Vermont.
Efforts are underway to ensure Bennington County slows the spread of COVID-19, Levine said. He anticipates testing capacity will soon be expanded.
Last week, Vermont had 82 fewer cases than the prior week. But case counts expected to stay “elevated” throughout February, said Pieciak.
An update to the Department of Health’s dashboard showing the number of cases by county and other data was delayed Tuesday due to technical issues, said Ben Truman, public health communication officer for the department.