by Doug McClure
MONTPELIER – Yesterday, the state announced that it was lowering the age for eligibility for COVID vaccination from 75 to 70.
Vermont Department of Health (DOH) Public Health Communication Officer Bennett Truman said in the first 15 minutes of Tuesday’s office hours, the state had received over 7,000 calls. He urged patience for those trying to reach the state by phone since at some points the call volume has overwhelmed the phone system. Truman said a better route for people seeking appointments was to register at healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine and added “Everyone will get scheduled and there are enough appointments for all.”
Governor Phil Scott tweeted yesterday morning that “In less than three hours, we’ve already scheduled more than 10,000 people in this phase, nearly one-third of the entire [75+] group population. We expect to move through this phase quickly and will then open to 65+ and then those with certain health conditions that put them at greater risk if they get COVID-19.”
This lowered threshold comes after the state claims significant progress in vaccinating those over 75. As of Tuesday morning, 50.8% of people over 75 across the state had received at least one dose of the vaccine. While most of the counties the Hardwick Gazette covers were almost at or above the state’s vaccination rate for that age group, most notably Caledonia County with 63%, Orleans County lags behind, with just 39.8% of those 75+ having received at least one dose, the second-lowest percentage in the state.
According to CDC data, Vermont ranks second highest in the region for the number of people vaccinated per 100 and tenth nationwide, Department of Financial Regulation Commission Mike Pieciak said Tuesday. He added that Vermont now ranks seventh in terms of the percentage of the population fully vaccinated.
On February 11 the DOH issued a release in which it said “The City of Burlington’s testing of wastewater detected the presence of two COVID-19 virus mutations that are associated with the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom.”
The city’s COVID surveillance strategy uses wastewater sampling as an early warning system and said that the prevalence of the variant was just over the limit at which detection was possible. Many cities and towns have begun deploying such a system as a part of COVID variant detection.
Hardwick Town Manager Shaun Fielder said the town “did previously receive a notice outlining a potential program for communities to volunteer for this type of testing. [It] was described as no-cost in regards to test costs and analysis. Nothing advanced on this at this time and I cannot predict if this would be implemented in the future. My recommended focus for everyone at this time is to continue to practice recommended social distancing measures and also sign up for and obtain coronavirus vaccinations when allowed.”
On Tuesday, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that data from Burlington’s wastewater system had not come back from the lab. He said that while no COVID-positive individual had tested positive for a variant in Vermont, “It is clear that we are now in a race, a race to continue to suppress the virus by adhering even more strictly to public health guidance, avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and multi-household gatherings a little longer, keeping our physical distance and masking, even double-masking or knot-and-tuck masking as there will be less chance for air leakage.” He directed people to the CDC for details at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/effective-masks.html.
Health authorities have expressed concerns over B.1.1.7’s transmission rate. While data is still limited in the United States, based on the experience in Britain scientists have put its transmissibility at 30-50% higher than the original virus. The CDC said in January that it expected that variant to become the dominant one in the United States by March. The CDC concluded in January that B.1.1.7.’s “higher rate of transmission will lead to more cases, increasing the number of persons overall who need clinical care, exacerbating the burden on an already strained health care system, and resulting in more deaths.”
The CDC has not committed to a characterization on whether this variant is intrinsically more fatal. On January 21, the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group presented a compilation of independent analyses that found “it is likely that infection with VOC [variant of concern] B.1.1.7 is associated with an increased risk of hospitalisation and death compared to infection with non-VOC viruses.”
The CDC said that “The increased transmissibility of this variant requires an even more rigorous combined implementation of vaccination and mitigation measures (e.g., distancing, masking, and hand hygiene) to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID]. These measures will be more effective if they are instituted sooner rather than later to slow the initial spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.”
To make an appointment for a vaccination, visit healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine or call 855-722-7878.