MONTPELIER — The next group of Vermonters can soon begin signing up to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I’m happy to report we have made great progress with our Phase 3 vaccination program and we will open up registration to another age group next week,” Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said Tuesday at the governor’s twice weekly new conference on the state’s response to the pandemic.
Starting 8:15 a.m. Monday, Vermonters 65 and older can make an appointment online at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine or through the Kinney Drugs or Walgreens websites. Smith estimated about 42,000 people fall in this category.
Gov. Phil Scott said he would imagine there will be slots available at some clinics for the next age group as early as next week.
More than 91,000 Vermonters have been vaccinated against the virus, Smith said. He estimated about 66 percent of residents in the 75 and older category and about 18 percent of those in the 70- to 74-year-old age group have received at least their first dose.
Smith is anticipated to share information next week about when the state will begin opening registration for those who are considered to be “high risk” and are 16 to 64 years old. He said the demand for the vaccine still outweighs the federal government’s supply.
Vermont’s method of distributing vaccines is aimed at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths by protecting the most vulnerable. Smith noted more than 90 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths occurred in those 65 and older.
The goal is to make it easier for people to get vaccinated, he said. Vaccination clinics are being added in several communities including Bellows Falls.
Scott said last week’s national allocation from Pfizer and Moderna added up to 13.5 million doses and this week’s will increase to 14.5 million, meaning about 1,000 more for Vermont per week for the next three weeks at a minimum. He roughly estimated that the state will getting about 14,500 doses each week.
Eyeing more doses becoming available after the potential approval by federal regulators this week of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Scott anticipates 2 million more doses would be distributed nationally with 2,000 coming to Vermont for each week. He said the company can’t commit to maintaining a steady supply but 20 million doses of its vaccine are expected to be ready by the end of March.
Vermonters who are fully vaccinated can now travel outside of the state without quarantining, and visitors who can prove they were fully vaccinated can travel here without quarantining. Anyone fully vaccinated can gather with another household regardless of whether the other household is fully vaccinated.
Scott said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance earlier this month, concluding that vaccines protect people from COVID-19 and spreading the virus.
Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said trends are improving nationally, regionally and within Vermont. He was referring to case counts, deaths and hospitalizations.
“The light at the end of the tunnel has never appeared brighter but we must remain vigilant as we bridge into the warmer weathers and the continued progress of our vaccination process,” he said while acknowledging how the U.S. just reached the “grim milestone” of 500,000 deaths attributed to the pandemic.
Vermont reported 727 new cases last week, a decrease of 89 cases from the prior week. Pieciak described seeing “gradual improvements” in case counts in the state.
The number of active outbreaks in long term care facilities in Vermont is now at three, with none in Bennington or Windham counties. And cases in the state are forecasted to decrease and “fall off dramatically into the spring,” Pieciak said.