Levine urges Vermonters to talk about vaccine
Health Commissioner Mark Levine told Vermonters on Tuesday that the best way to create a wall of protection against COVID-19 this fall and winter is to get vaccinated — and to talk to their family members about getting the vaccine, too.
Roughly 82.4% of Vermonters ages 12 and older have started the vaccination process. But Levine is still concerned about the remaining 18% and the best choices for their health.
“If you are a parent or a grandparent of someone who is not vaccinated … have a conversation with them, but don’t take [your] role as having to convince them,” he said at Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly press conference.
Instead, Levine said, you should “listen in an empathetic and nonjudgmental way” to their reasons for not yet getting the vaccine. Make sure they’re consulting reliable sources and ask them if they’ve had a conversation with their health care provider, he said.
Vermonters could help their loved ones to find clinics or pharmacies that offer the vaccine and provide transportation or childcare if they need it, he said.
Officials estimate that fewer than 5% of unvaccinated Vermonters are truly resistant to getting vaccinated, Levine said. Most fall in the “wait-and-see” category or haven’t yet lined up an appointment for various reasons.
The state continues to hold pop-up clinics and is setting up permanent COVID-19 centers that would offer vaccinations and testing, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.
It also plans to offer the vaccine through primary care providers. Smith said 75% of hospital-affiliated primary care doctors and 65% of independent doctors are enrolled in the vaccine program, and many have started administering the vaccine in the past few weeks.
Vermonters with questions about the vaccine could call their own doctor to discuss it and see if they offer the vaccine on site, Levine said.
Officials touted the success of the vaccination program so far. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Vermont is first in the country for the percent of its population with at least one dose.
Gov. Phil Scott said the White House’s new strategy to reach unvaccinated Americans had similarities to Vermont’s program, and Levine said state officials were getting “phone calls and correspondence” asking them to share “secrets to their success.”
Scott said Vermont’s high vaccination rate provided strong protection against the highly transmissible Delta variant that now makes up half of all new COVID-19 cases in the country. “It’s like you’ve set up this barrier around Vermont,” he said.
“If you’re vaccinated and you’re in Vermont, there’s not much transmission in the community. … I don’t believe that’s going to change unless there’s another variant of some sort that is stronger, and the vaccine’s not effective against that,” he said.
Vermont officials are eager to see other states and countries pick up their vaccination rates, he said, to prevent the virus from mutating in other parts of the world into something that can overcome vaccines.
LOW CASES POST-REOPENING
Three weeks after Scott announced the end to Vermont’s COVID-19 restrictions, there’s no sign that the reopening led to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
In fact, cases fell again in June, with only 190 cases reported for the month — compared to 1,174 cases in May and 228 cases in June 2020, according to Department of Financial Regulation data.
Only three deaths were reported in June. Levine said those deaths were among a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people older than 60.
Last week, Commissioner Mike Pieciak said the median age of COVID-19 cases was rising, but it appears to have swung back to a younger age again. The median age is now roughly 30.
Pieciak said fewer cases in June 2021 were attributed to outbreaks compared to June 2020, showing the vaccine is effective at preventing isolated cases from becoming wider outbreaks.
“We can see that cases really have nowhere to go in Vermont when they do turn up … because of our high vaccination rate,” he said.
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