Vermont could receive its first doses of coronavirus vaccines within a week and begin vaccinating high-priority residents a week after that, officials said Tuesday.
In a press conference, Health Director Dr. Mark Levine said the state has ordered 5,850 doses of coronavirus vaccines and expressed optimism the first shipments could arrive within a week. Any vaccine must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before it is administered to people.
Health officials say "Phase 1A" of the state's vaccine distribution plan will focus on health care workers, particularly those who have patient contact in in-patient setting and those in high-risk settings.
Levine said an additional 5,850 doses were being held in reserve so people who get the shot in Phase 1A are able to get a second dose. Both Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines, which have yet to get FDA approval, are two-dose vaccines. He added the state would continue making vaccine orders on a weekly basis.
Pharmacies contracted to provide vaccines at skilled nursing facilities and could hold their first vaccination clinics at long-term care facilities by Dec. 21, Levine said.
Gov. Phil Scott added the state has enough freezers to accommodate Pfizer vaccine doses, which require super-cold storage.
FDA officials will meet to review the Pfizer vaccine Thursday, and it could be authorized almost immediately.
Scott acknowledged during the press conference the vaccines provided a "light at the end of the tunnel," but urged people to continue taking measures such as refraining from unnecessary multi-household gatherings and wearing masks.
"We still have difficult days and months ahead, and we have to be realistic: The vaccines will not provide an instantaneous relief," he said. "There will be many months before we receive enough for everyone."
Meanwhile, officials said the state will launch a text message alert system later this week to notify people if contact tracers find they are close contacts of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Such people will receive a text message advising them to quarantine right away and providing health resources. Those who receive the messages will also be contacted by state contact tracers.
Scott said it was still to early to determine whether the Thanksgiving holiday would lead to a surge in cases and require the administration to "reduce or add additional steps."
State health officials on Tuesday reported 100 new cases of COVID-19, bringing Vermont's total to 5,180 since the beginning of the pandemic. Twenty-eight people are currently hospitalized with the disease across the state.
Vermont officials on Friday said the state would increase COVID-19 testing at long-term care facilities and bolster contact tracing efforts amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
Assisted living and residential care facilities are now testing all staff members twice a week, officials said. The facilities are also provided antigen tests to use in cases of symptomatic residents or staff.
All skilled nursing facilities are being provided with rapid antigen tests so that staff members can be tested on a daily basis in addition to weekly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
Meanwhile, Scott on Friday said youth sports in the state would remain on hold.
Scott last month postponed the start of school sports, initially slated for Nov. 30, until further notice. Recreational sports have also been on hold.
Scott said his administration would continue to monitor health metrics to determine when youth sports can resume.