Tuesday saw the next phase in Vermont’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, as a new age group became eligible for shots.
The Vermont Health Department opened vaccine registration to people age 70 and up. Previously, vaccines had been limited to groups including health care workers who encounter patients, residents of long-term care facilities and people age 75 and older.
Interest was strong. In just the first 15 minutes of registrations Tuesday, more than 7,000 calls jammed circuits. More than half of the roughly 33,200 Vermonters eligible in this new age band signed up by the end of day one, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
“For me, every time we’re able to vaccinate someone, we’re stickin’ it to COVID,” said Heather Danis of the Vermont Department of Health. “That’s the way I describe it. It just feels good to say that!”
Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said he is impressed by the level of interest in the vaccination program.
“The rates with which our first-priority populations are taking vaccine are nothing short of phenomenal,” Levine said during a briefing about Vermont’s COVID-19 response Tuesday.
There are several possible explanations for that, beyond Vermont’s general reputation for health-mindedness.
Public messaging went out early, with health officials urging web-savvy younger people to help sign up seniors. Clinics also opened statewide, making access easier.
And keeping age bands narrowly focused first on those at greatest risk of dying helps the small state better manage its limited vaccine supply, said Gov. Phil Scott. That means Vermont can add appointments as the federal government sends more doses, without having to pull back, Scott explained.
“When I see on the news that a certain state has had to cancel vaccinations for the week due to a lack of supply, from my standpoint, that’s just poor planning on their part,” Scott said Tuesday.
Levine noted he is pleased to see an increase in members of eligible groups who were at first hesitant to take the vaccine now signing up to receive the doses.
At this rate, Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith expects ages 65+ will be signing up in a few weeks, followed by Vermonters 18 to 65 with medical conditions, Smith said.
Health officials are still working on who comes after that group, he added.
Jackie Lambert-Vezina, 82, received dose number one of the vaccine in Winooski Tuesday. She said she hardly felt a thing and had no problems from the shot.
“I didn’t die, and I have no intention of doing so right now,” Lambert-Vezina said, laughing.
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State leaders acknowledged the frustrations of people left on hold or who got disconnected during that crush of calls from the new age band, and thanked them for their patience.
The Vermont Department of Health urged people to use its website to sign up if they can, instead of calling.
“We should be able to register and schedule and ultimately vaccinate this age group relatively quickly,” he said Friday during the governor’s twice-weekly virus briefing.
Gov. Phil Scott said he knows many residents are wondering why other states have opened the vaccine to broader populations than Vermont has. Some neighboring states have opened eligibility to people aged 65 and older and in certain job categories, Scott said.
“But again, just saying people are eligible doesn’t mean they actually have the doses to cover them,” he said.