Vt. Military Students Receive Vaccines; Health Commissioner Wants to See More Young People Follow

The Vermont National Guard held a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Tuesday at Norwich University

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Vermont's health commissioner issued an urgent plea to people age 16 to 40 to get their COVID-19 vaccines when their turn comes — and not to think of a coronavirus infection as a concern only for the elderly.

"This pandemic has been called the largest mass-disabling event in some time," said Dr. Mark Levine of the Vermont Health Department. "It does not spare a person because they are young."

Levine warned that more-contagious coronavirus variants are spreading in Vermont, adding that there are deep concerns over possible long-term physical effects from COVID-19, like chronic fatigue, brain fog or shortness of breath.

"We're hearing, even in a younger population, who had a milder illness, these can creep up on them over months and be very debilitating," Levine said of those symptoms, noting researchers are still working to understand long-term impacts.

The health commissioner also pointed younger Vermonters to data showing for the first time in the pandemic, the median age of COVID-19 infections here is now below age 30.

At Norwich University in Northfield, the nation's oldest private military college, a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Tuesday offered doses to some of the youngest and healthiest people yet to receive them.

"It's exciting," said Alita Buck, a first-year student at Norwich.

More than 200 vaccine doses were administered at the clinic, according to military personnel managing the site.

While vaccine shipments to the Vermont Department of Health are going under state policy first to older Vermonters and those with chronic conditions, the shots administered at Tuesday's event at Norwich came from a different source: the U.S. Department of Defense supply.

Because of that distinction, college students preparing for military careers qualified for Tuesday's voluntary appointments.

"So we can live our lives again, so we can finally take our masks off and see people smile again," James Botelho, a junior at Norwich University, said of the reasons he was eager to join fellow Cadets in signing up for a Moderna vaccine shot.

Maj. Joe Phelan serves on the Vermont National Guard's COVID-19 task force.

"Every dose, every vaccine is that much closer to getting back to normal," Phelan said in an interview with NECN. "The long-term risks of COVID far outweigh the risks associated with the vaccine."

Phelan said many military members tend to be motivated to seek out vaccines because of a sense of duty to others in the community.

That observation matched comments NECN heard from military students who rolled up their sleeves to receive shots at the Norwich clinic run by the Vermont National Guard.

"You want to take care of everyone around you," said Ben Cusimano, a Norwich Senior.

Mikaylan Diallo, a Champlain College senior enlisting in the Air Force, traveled to Northfield from Burlington for Tuesday's clinic.

"There are other people around you who may be affected by your decisions," Diallo pointed out.

"If we can do this to help out the rest of society and kind of get things back to normal and get everybody out and about again, we really have no reason not to," Norwich junior Zack Bergeron said of getting his vaccine.

For Vermont residents from the general population, everyone age 16 and up will be eligible to sign up for their shots by April 19, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont announced Friday.

The governor urged Vermonters who have not yet done so to set up an account to register on this state website so they will be ready to schedule their vaccine appointments when the time comes.

Levine said the Vermont Health Department plans to reach out specifically to younger Vermonters using various methods, including social media, to urge them to get vaccinated.

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