MONTPELIER — Vaccination efforts are getting credited for a decline in older Vermonters contracting COVID-19.
Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said the state is seeing significant improvement in the number of individuals 75 and older being diagnosed with the virus.
“This is obviously where our vaccination strategy has been placed over the last number of weeks,” he said Tuesday at the governor’s twice weekly news conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
About a month ago, Vermonters in the age group accounted for about 10 cases a day. Now, they’re accounting for about 3.29 cases each day.
Outbreaks in long-term care facilities also have been decreasing. The number dropped from five to four over the past week, with one at Brookdale Fillmore Pond in Bennington and none in Windham County.
Less cases in the most vulnerable age group means less deaths, Pieciak said. His hope is the trend will continue as vaccinations continue.
Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said registration opened Tuesday morning for any Vermonter 70 and older to receive their first dose.
“Things have been going well but please be patient as call volumes are higher than normal,” he said. “As of 10:05, some have received the message that all circuits are busy. We are working on this.”
In the first 15 minutes after the call-center began taking calls, it was overwhelmed by more than 7,000 calls.
Smith suggested people try calling back if they can’t get through. He said wait times tend to be about five minutes and 25 minutes at maximum. He also encouraged people to make appointments online.
“So far, over 11,000 have registered, nearly one-third of the eligible Vermont population in that age band,” he said. “As of today, 78,200 eligible Vermonters have been vaccinated against COVID-19 ... So far, 51 percent of Vermonters in the 75 and above age group as well as nearly 850 homebound Vermonters have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.”
The plan is to keep reaching out to hospitals and primary care offices to find homebound Vermonters who want to be vaccinated. Smith said a phone number will be provided in the future for making appointments for those who are homebound.
Smith said he thinks “we’ve offered a thoughtful approach to this rollout,” which also includes health care workers. He anticipates getting through the 70 and older age band “fairly quickly” before moving on to those who are 65 and older.
“I will have more details on this in the near future,” he said.
Gov. Phil Scott expects the state could complete vaccinating those in the current age band in about three weeks.
Pieciak said favorable trends continue to be seen nationally, regionally and in Vermont. He said cases have rapidly decreased in the U.S. and that’s anticipated to continue.
The Northeast region reported 13,000 fewer cases in the past week than the prior week.
“This is the first time since November where regional cases have been fewer than 100,000 on a weekly basis,” Pieciak said, adding that the region is experiencing “vast improvement in almost every corner of every state” and that will “certainly have a direct impact on Vermont in the weeks and months ahead.”
Vermont reported 814 cases last week, a decrease of 142 from the prior week. Pieciak said the state is seeing gradual decreases with improvements in Bennington and Rutland counties where cases had been higher recently, but Franklin and Essex counties are now having disproportionately higher numbers.
The most recent data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Vermont ranking number two in the Northeast and 10 in the nation for number of people per capita who have received COVID-19 vaccines.
The state will now be tracking the number of people who have received both doses. With more than 5.3 percent of Vermonters being fully vaccinated, the state ranks number 7 nationally in this regard.
Arriving to the news conference late after being on a call with governors and White House officials, Scott announced that allocations to states will again increase, meaning about 2,500 additional doses for Vermont each week. Johnson & Johnson is still anticipated to be granted emergency use authorization for its vaccine by the end of the month, he said, estimating that several million doses will be available right away with 100 million ready by the end of June.