COVID-19 dashboard December 31 2020
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MONTPELIER — The shipments of COVID-19 vaccine the state will receive from the federal government next week will be less than what the state was pledged — a situation Gov. Phil Scott and his cabinet want to see change.

Mike Smith, the secretary for the state Agency of Human Services, said Thursday during a COVID-19 briefing that the state will be receiving a combined 7,800 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. That’s just two-thirds of the 11,700 doses the state was expecting.

That greatly concerns Smith, Scott and Dr. Mark Levine, the state’s health commissioner. So far, there’s no clear understanding from the federal government as to why things changed, they said.

“You can’t have a [vaccine] program where there’s no predictability,” Smith said. “You need that predictability to sustain the program.”

There’s concern that the lack of consistent supply “will affect us down the road,” Smith added. “We are looking to our federal partners and saying ‘What is going on here, what is precipitating these wild swings?’"

David Carle, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, said Leahy is aware of the state's vaccine difficulties. 

"We know that the State of Vermont is in discussions about this with CDC, and Senator Leahy has always been in frequent touch with the Governor about all things relating to COVID," Carle said. "Unfortunately, the problems with the vaccine rollout are nationwide and not unique to Vermont and are the result of poor handling by the Trump administration."

As of Wednesday night, Vermont had distributed 14,000 doses of the vaccine to front-line health care workers and patients in long-term care facilities. That’s 21 percent of the “1A” list of first recipients and 2 percent of the overall eligible population, Smith said.

Smith said as of Thursday, 21 of 37 skilled nursing and long-term care facilities had received first doses of the vaccine. That first round of shots is expected to be completed by next Friday, and the second round by the end of January, he said.

Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the national COVID-19 vaccine program, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that 14 million doses had been shipped around the country so far. Tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that as of Wednesday, nearly 2.8 million injections had been given.

On Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden said the Trump administration is “falling far behind” and vowed to ramp up the pace once he takes office on Jan. 20. In early December, Biden vowed to distribute 100 million shots in the first 100 days of his administration.

In Vermont, state officials have announced that once the “1A” eligible group gets its vaccine doses, the state intends to prioritize next recipients by age groups, with the oldest Vermonters going first, rather than focusing on “essential” personnel. The state is still working on determining which underlying medical conditions will move people up the list, Levine and Smith said.

Asked if the state had enough resources from the federal government to conduct the vaccinations, Scott said he’d rather have enough vaccine to get the job done.

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“I’m more concerned about the supply than the amount of money to deliver it,” Scott said.

“Just get us the vaccine and we’ll get it into people’s arms,” Smith added.

STAMFORD CHALLENGE

Asked about the Stamford Select Board’s recent vote to “terminate” the state’s emergency COVID orders, Scott said he was confident the state was on “very solid ground constitutionally.” He said he hopes Stamford residents still adhere to the state’s health guidance, adding that relief, in the form of the vaccine, is on the way.

Scott said he understands that some residents are frustrated with restrictions, mask mandates and the like, but added “Declaring it over doesn’t make it so. We still have an emergency on our hands. We still have people dying.”

SCHOOL REOPENINGS

Scott and Education Secretary Daniel French also spoke about the reopening of schools next week, and laid out in general terms how the state would begin to assess and mitigate the effects of the pandemic on Vermont children’s education.

Scott and French said the data on COVID-19 cases in schools, and the results of staff surveillance testing since November, show that school communities are doing a good job of keeping people healthy and safe.

The COVID positivity rate within schools is under 0.26 percent since surveillance testing started, Scott said — 10 times lower than the general population during the same time period.

“It indicates that while we’ve seen some cases there has been very little transmission within school buildings,” Scott said. “I believe this is because teachers, administrators, parents and kids have all done a great job following the rules.”

Scott, noting the briefing was the 100th since the public health emergency was declared, thanked Vermonters for their work and sacrifice in making the state’s handling of the pandemic one of the nation’s best. He asked citizens to maintain their vigilance and adherence to preventing the virus’s spread.

“As we move forward let’s remember the 136 Vermonters who lost their lives,” Scott said. “Keep in mind that number would have been much higher if not for our collective action to step up.”

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.