Mike Smith

Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, speaks during Friday’s press conference updating the public on the state’s COVID-19 response.

MONTPELIER — Vermont officials on Friday announced that distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by age will begin on Jan. 25, and will start by targeting those in the 75-or-older age band.

The information came as Gov. Phil Scott also announced an extension of Vermont’s state of emergency declaration.

“This approach is to protect those who are more likely to die of COVID,” Scott said, noting that 80% of the state’s recorded deaths from the disease are residents over the age of 70. “We must focus on these populations first.”

Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said residents in the eligible age band will need to register by calling or setting up an appointment online. He said the phone number and website will be unveiled closer to the Jan. 25 start date.

Smith also urged Vermonters to stick to the appointment and not cancel or no-show, otherwise doses of the vaccine will be wasted. He said an appointment for the second dose will be set after the first dose is administered, and will take place at the same facility.

“When you make an appointment, it will be very important to keep it,” Smith said.

Smith said appointments must be made through the designated phone number or web portal, and urged Vermonters not to attempt to set up vaccination appointments with their health care providers. He also urged Vermonters to be patient as the state continues to work out the details, such as vaccination clinic locations.

“Teams are working day and night to get this in place with the goal of getting a rapid, efficient and workable process that will save more lives,” Smith said.

Scott said a 200-person call center will take care of scheduling appointments by phone. State officials urged people to make appointments through the web portal to prevent any bottleneck or delay from too many phone calls.

Clinics to administer the vaccine will begin Jan. 27, and will be held through partner hospitals, state-run sites and pharmacies, Smith said. He said the state is currently receiving 8,800 doses of the vaccine each week on average, and the goal will be to administer every available dose each week.

Smith said there are 49,000 Vermonters in the 75-and-older age group, and that it is expected that age group would be fully vaccinated in about six weeks, at which point the next younger age band would be vaccinated. He stressed that the plan, which would vaccinate the population by age band from oldest to youngest, can be scaled up if the number of weekly doses from the federal government increases.

“What we really need is greater quantity of vaccine in the weeks ahead,” Smith said. “But we want to set appropriate expectations and communicate clearly where we are and what we expect.”

Smith said a very limited number of doses not needed for the first phase of vaccination — health care and long-term care facility staff — will be given next week to those age 75 or older who are hospitalized, as part of the overlap between the first and second phases of vaccine distribution.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that once the 65-and-older age band is vaccinated, the state will focus on those age 18 to 65 with medical conditions that put them at severe risk. Such conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD and heart conditions.

Levine noted that asthma, while a condition that could possibly put people at risk, isn’t as high a risk as the other conditions on the list based on the data the state is basing its decisions on.

Levine said the state is also working to make sure the state’s Black, indigenous and people of color are able to get the information and access they need by working with community leaders.

Smith said people will need to prove they are residents of Vermont in order to receive a vaccine in the state.

State of emergency extended

Scott said he signed an executive order Friday morning extending the state of emergency another month in order to maintain the use of resources needed to fight the pandemic.

“Hopefully we can lift restrictions and get to the point where we don’t need it,” Scott said. “Until then, we need everyone to work with us.”

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