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75-year-olds up next for COVID vaccine

VERMONT — State health officials will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to Vermonters age 75 and older beginning next week.
Gov. Phil Scott said at Tuesday’s press conference that distribution of the vaccine to health care workers and long-term care facility residents in Phase 1A has been proceeding, and that the effort will expand into Phase 2 with inoculations for the oldest Vermonters beginning on Monday, Jan. 25.
“This approach is all about those who are likely to die from COVID,” Scott said Tuesday. “The goal of saving lives is our top goal.”
Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine pointed to a chart that showed that 80% of the people who have died of COVID-19 in Vermont have been age 70 or older. There are 49,000 Vermonters in the 75-and-up age group.
Levine explained further that age 75 was chosen for the expansion because data showed that 13% of Vermonters ages 75-79 who get COVID-19 end up dying of the disease. Those in the next lower age band — 70-74 years old — die at a rate of 5.2%.
“The data shows that the older you are, the greater your risk of dying from COVID,” Levine said.
For older people who are homebound the local EMS and Home Health will provide shots, he said. With 8,000-9,000 doses of vaccine arriving each week, it should take six weeks to complete this group.
Those eligible for the vaccine will expand by age grouping, and then, after the age groups, by certain high-risk medical conditions, officials said. Levine hoped to have all Vermonters age 65 and older vaccinated by sometime in April.
Scott on Tuesday stressed that Vermont’s vaccination plans are based on limited, unpredictable supplies of vaccine from the federal government.
“It’s true that some states have started with broader eligibility than ours,” Scott said. “The problem is, without the supply, they’re not going to be able to vaccinate any more people — just create more frustration and confusion.
“Overpromising is not the answer,” he added. “The logical approach is to manage the supply of the vaccine we’re receiving. And if we’re allotted more, we’ll scale up, which we hope is the case.”
Some people have suggested more people could be vaccinated with a limited supply if the state moved to offer only the first dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which both require a second dose after a few weeks. The idea is that everyone who receives the first dose would be protected against the coronavirus to some extent, and therefore more people would have some protection before supplies are used up.
Levine pushed back on that idea, saying that the protection from one dose for those at highest risk would not be meet the state goals of saving lives.
Gov. Scott said he would announce at his Friday news conference the process for older Vermonters to make appointments for vaccinations. But it is unclear at this point how that announcement will be made. Scott and Levine are both quarantining because a contractor at a recent conference tested positive for COVID-19. Late on Wednesday Scott reported that he had tested negative, but said he would stay in quarantine as a precaution and get tested again on Day 7, which is next Tuesday.
In explaining their plans for expanded vaccinations, officials said there would be a website and phone lines where appointments could be made. Levine explicitly asked younger people — adult sons and daughters and grandchildren — to help their elders sign up on the website to avoid overwhelming the phone lines.
“When you make an appointment it is very important you can keep it,” Levine stressed. “We don’t want to spoil a dose.”
When vaccine distribution expands beyond 65-year-olds, it will also be offered to Vermonters of any age who have certain conditions: currently battling cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (emphysema), heart conditions, immunocompromised state, severe obesity, pregnancy, Type 2 diabetes, Down Syndrome and Sickle cell disease.
It was expected by some that there will be location in Middlebury that would distribute COVID-19 vaccinations.
State officials said they are preparing for greater supplies of the vaccine, but they had no specific information that the supply would increase. But they hoped to be able to vaccinate as many Vermonters as fast as possible.
“If there is more vaccine we will add capacity,” Levine said. “We can scale up fast if we get more vaccine.”
But, in the meantime, he stressed, Vermonters should continue to take precautions:
“Keep six-foot spaces, masks on faces, avoid crowded places.”

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