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This map and table shows vaccination rates in Vermont. Bennington County trails the state in a number of age categories, notably among children ages 5-11 and among young and middle-aged adults.  

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BENNINGTON — When it comes to COVID, one of these counties is not like the others.

That’s what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention said when asked last week why Bennington County was alone among Vermont’s 14 counties in having a “high” community level of COVID.

The Banner reached out to the CDC on Thursday, seeking a deeper explanation of why the data produced a “high” rating for Bennington County. Specifically, the Banner sought whether “high” COVID levels in Rensselaer and Washington counties in New York were impacting Bennington County. The remaining surrounding counties – Rutland, Windsor, Windham, and Berkshire – were all “medium” at the time.

Monday, the CDC explained that Bennington’s ties to New York state played a role.

“Bennington County, VT is still categorized as high community level because of an elevated hospital admissions rate within the health service area that includes Bennington County. The health service area for Bennington County also includes Albany and Rensselaer counties in New York,” the CDC explained.

Albany County is currently characterized by the CDC as having medium transmission. The CDC recommends counties with high transmission are directed to wear masks in public, regardless of vaccination status.

“The other Vermont counties are in different health service areas, which is why the hospital admissions rate for Bennington County differs from other Vermont counties and is the same as those two counties in New York. The hospital admissions rate in this health service area is rapidly declining at this point in the current wave of infections, so we anticipate that Bennington County will move to a lower community level category within the next few weeks,” the agency said.

The CDC uses a combination of new cases, new COVID admissions to hospitals and the percentage of hospital beds with COVID patients to determine the community COVID level.

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Last week, Dr. Trey Dobson, the medical director at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, said New York cases have been a factor in Bennington’s COVID rate all along, given commuting between the states. He also said that COVID cases at SVMC have been stable or decreasing over the past several weeks, and that most cases have presented with mild symptoms.

That said, the virus is still present in the community, and vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others and reduce the duration and severity of infection if you do get sick, Dobson said.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is expected to address current COVID trends in Vermont and plans for vaccinations for children ages 6 months to five years old on Tuesday at Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly news briefing.

The Washington Post reported that the Food and Drug Administration staff said Sunday the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, for children younger than 5 is effective in producing a virus-blocking response and did not raise safety concerns, a prelude to a crucial review this week by the agency’s independent advisers.

The analysis by FDA scientists was released ahead of a meeting Wednesday of the agency’s independent experts, according to the Post, who will consider a request for emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the youngest children. It will also review a request from Moderna to use its vaccine in children younger than 6. FDA staff Friday said Moderna’s shot for infants and young children was safe and effective.

After the advisers make their recommendations, the FDA will decide whether to follow the panel’s advice, which it often does. If the agency clears the vaccines, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signs off, the shots could be available beginning next week, the Post said.

According to Vermont state health department data, 56 percent of Vermont children ages 5-11 are up to date on COVID vaccines and boosters, compared to 59 percent of the state as a whole. In Bennington County, 43 percent of children ages 5-11 and 55 percent of all residents are up to date.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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