Mark Levine

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine speaks during Tuesday’s press conference updating the public on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MONTPELIER — The state’s vaccination effort is going to further speed up this week.

Gov. Phil Scott announced during Tuesday’s press conference, updating the public on the state’s COVID-19 response, that Phase 5B would be moved forward from Monday, March 15, to Thursday, March 11. This vaccination phase opens up eligibility to those age 16 and older with certain high-risk conditions.

“We want to make sure we get to them as quickly as possible,” Scott said, noting that group is roughly 75,000 people. “This second track is possible as a result of increased federal supply.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine also announced new steps in the state’s effort to increase vaccine access to Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) in Vermont.

“Our goal to achieve community immunity can only be achieved if we work to lessen the barriers and make vaccination accessible to all Vermonters,” Levine said.

Here are three key takeaways from Tuesday’s press conference:

1. Phase 5B to begin Thursday

With the increased population eligibility that will come from moving Phase 5B to Thursday at 8:15 a.m., Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said more than 110,000 Vermonters would be eligible for the vaccine by the end of the week, between the 5B and 5A populations.

Smith said the move was spurred by “our supply of vaccine and ability to accommodate a large number of appointments.”

On Monday, Phase 5A opened up eligibility to Vermonters age 55 and over with high-risk conditions, as well as educators and school staff, correctional officers, and emergency responders such as police, fire and ambulance personnel. As of Tuesday, Smith said 9,000 people age 55 and older with high-risk conditions had scheduled appointments in that phase, and 8,600 teachers and school staff signed up.

Smith said school districts in Addison, Bennington, Caledonia, Chittenden, Rutland and Windham counties have scheduled appointments for school staff. Meanwhile, corrections staff in Burlington, St. Johnsbury, Rutland and Springfield have received vaccinations, with Newport and St. Albans corrections staff receiving vaccines this week, Smith said.

Additional vaccine appointments will be added in Grand Isle, Colchester, Essex Junction, Derby, Randolph, Island Point and Hartford, Smith said.

School staff can make appointments through the Health Department website or through Walgreens, and must bring the confirmation email to their appointment, Smith said.

Scott reported that the state’s vaccine acceptance rate has remained high, with 80% of the 75-plus age band in the state having received at least one dose.

2. More access for BIPOC population

Beginning next week, Levine said BIPOC Vermonters eligible for vaccination may also bring household members to be vaccinated, a strategy the state had used in the last month for eligible Vermonters and their families who may have a language barrier, such as English language learners. Levine said clinics would be established with community partners and posted online as they are set up.

According to data cited by Levine, BIPOC Vermonters are overrepresented in the COVID-19 case data: 6% of the population has experienced 18% of cases. Likewise, 54% of Vermont’s BIPOC population is likely to be part of an outbreak, compared to 22% of the white, non-hispanic population.

Levine said the inequity extends to vaccinations: 3.8% of the state’s indigenous population, 9% of the Black population and 11% of the multiracial population have received a dose, compared to 20% of the state’s white population.

“We can and must do better, not only in engagement, the building of trust and reducing vaccine hesitancy, but in realizing better health outcomes,” Levine said.

3. Levine addresses wastage concerns

“As we’ve been putting thousands of doses of vaccines in peoples’ arms … I’ve heard concern about what is called wastage,” Levine said.

As of Tuesday, Levine said the state has disposed of 458 non-viable doses, representing 0.2% of all doses. He said this is well below the standard of less than 5%, and is comparable to or lower than other routinely used vaccines.

“There are always errors that result in a lost dose,” Levine said. “… There’s no person, program or facility that wants a single dose to go unused.”

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