Vermont's governor said Tuesday to expect a new public messaging campaign that aims to persuade more people across the Green Mountain State to seek out COVID-19 vaccine boosters.
Early booster uptake has been strong among older Vermonters, the Scott administration said, while acknowledging there is still a lot more progress to make -- especially with COVID cases expected to rise after the holidays.
"Don't consider yourself fully protected unless you've gotten a booster," said Gov. Phil Scott, who also issued a warning. "If you're still unvaccinated, I want to be clear, you'll be infected sooner or later. It's just a matter of time."
The governor and members of his administration said, at this point, the majority of the most serious pandemic problems -- in the form of hospitalizations and intensive care unit occupancy -- are being driven by a minority of the population.
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Mike Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, who also leads COVID data modeling for the state, said approximately 5-6% of Vermont adults over the age of 18 are unvaccinated.
The main purpose of vaccines was to reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, avoid additional infections and alleviate strain on hospitals, the Scott administration said.
"I realize that Vermonters have a choice," Mike Smith, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, acknowledged. "But some choices have consequences. In this case, refusing to get the vaccine results in higher hospitalizations and stress on the health care system, at significant cost."
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Logistical changes at Vermont hospitals, such as delays to patient appointments for certain procedures deemed less urgent, have been blamed on strain from COVID hospitalizations and ICU occupancy.
Pieciak pointed to data showing Vermonters who aren't fully vaccinated are 30 times more likely to require hospitalization and 34 times more likely to die from COVID than their neighbors who are both vaccinated and boosted.
Emphasizing those numbers, Scott is pleading with folks who haven't gotten their shots to finally do so. And for the many people who have, but who still need boosting, to get those doses once you're eligible.
"Waning immunity on top of whatever impacts [the] omicron [variant] could have makes getting your booster essential," Scott said.
People are eligible for booster doses six months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Scott said to expect a new public messaging campaign soon around booster uptake, hoping to specifically reach people the administration thinks might've tuned out of COVID news and who therefore may not know how important health officials say boosters are, given the waning protection from the initial doses.
Pieciak also revealed the results of a new data analysis Tuesday, which resulted in an estimate suggesting 930 people in Vermont alone are still alive today thanks to the COVID-19 vaccines.
"It is impressive when you think about Vermonters stepping up to protect nearly 1,000 people from also succumbing to the virus in our state," the data modeling chief said in reference to the new estimate of Vermont lives saved by the vaccine.
Since the start of the pandemic, 436 lives have been lost to COVID in Vermont, according to the Dec. 14 daily update on the state's COVID-19 case dashboard.
"Any death is unfortunate, and we strive every day to try and protect people," Scott said. "And that's why we want to make sure that we provide the boosters and the protection that's needed."
Vermont's health commissioner even suggested adding a vaccine dose or booster shot to your holiday shopping list.
"Getting vaccinated can even be a gift to your loved ones this season, a time when we try to think of others," Dr. Mark Levine, the leader of the Vermont Department of Health, recommended.
Scott also said Tuesday the state is working hard to source tens of thousands of rapid COVID test kits to distribute to Vermonters at no cost to them.