MONTPELIER — State officials expressed disappointment after hearing some instances of COVID-19 vaccines going to those who didn’t yet qualify.
“This is unfortunate because we have sent out three notifications to health care providers talking about who was eligible in group 1A that were specific, especially regarding health care workers,” 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 pandemic. “In addition, we heard about situations where there was an attempt to circumvent the guidance and we intervened.”
No criminal activity was alleged and no providers were named. Smith reported hearing about attempts for non-patient-facing health care workers to receive the vaccines before the state stepped in.
“When we see it, we intervene because it’s not right and we want to make sure we are looking at these in general,” he said.
Smith said he’s still highly confident that most health care providers have complied with the guidance.
“We’re hoping this will be less of a concern moving forward,” he said. “We have issued even more guidance for health care providers.”
Smith said attempts to circumvent the guidance were probably unintentional “but at the same time, I got to recognize some people have gotten vaccines that shouldn’t have and that’s unfortunate.” He encouraged health care partners to follow the guidance and for employees to not take the vaccine if they don’t think they’re eligible.
Gov. Phil Scott said the state didn’t have as much control in the first phase, as opposed to now where residents 75 and older are eligible for vaccinations.
“We probably should have been a little more clear but it was moving quickly,” he said. “I think this is a benefit of the age banding. It’s fairly clear: You’re either in that age group or not. There’s no way to be subjective about it.”
As of Tuesday, 65,100 eligible Vermonters have been vaccinated against COVID-19, about 32 percent of the eligible population. And about 33,400 Vermonters who are 75 or older have registered for their first dose.
Walgreens is set to receive vaccines directly from the federal government above and beyond the state’s allocation, Smith said. The stores are anticipated to get about 1,000 to 2,000 doses a week starting at the end of this week.
Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, pointed to Israel as a sign of early hope. He said the country has 80 percent of its citizens who are 60 and older fully vaccinated and it’s seeing instances of severe illness and deaths related to COVID-19 starting to decline.
The number of cases in the United States dropped by about 55 percent in the last four weeks. Pieciak said cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the country are projected to decrease through the month of February.
Cases in the Northeast region have decreased more than 50 percent in the last four weeks. Pieciak said deaths and hospitalizations in the region also are trending downward.
While describing the number of cases in Vermont in the last two weeks remaining “generally flat,” he said cases counts in Bennington and Rutland counties have been “disproportionately higher.”
“We’re reporting a low of 59 cases today,” Health Commissioner Mark Levine said, noting that daily case counts in Vermont have been ranging from 100 to 150 as in recent weeks.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, testing will be available at the Dana Thompson Parker House in Manchester. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays through February, tests will be conducted at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s Northshire Medical Campus in Manchester.
“We’re very grateful to the town of Manchester and their work to stand up these sites,” Levine said.
Daily testing also will be available in Bennington at SVMC and a clinic at 120 McKinley Street.
Levine estimated that two vaccination clinics designed specifically for immigrants and new Americans resulted in 100 Vermonters being vaccinated last week.
“We understand that language barriers and other factors faced by immigrants and other new American communities have led to outbreaks, disproportionate outcomes and a markedly greater risk of COVID-19,” he said, adding that the state wants to prioritize Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities and English language learning populations, which is aligned with recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the state’s implementation advisory committee.
Having just spoken with other governors and White House officials, Scott said an extra 500,000 doses will be distributed soon — meaning about 500 more for Vermont. He said Pfizer told the federal government that the company will add 50 million doses to what it originally thought it would have by the end of March. He called the increase “significant.”