BENNINGTON — Vaccinations against COVID-19 are expected to begin in Bennington County within the next two weeks, under a three-phase plan developed by the state, the chief medical officer of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center said Monday.
Dr. Trey Dobson said that initial supplies of the vaccine, enough to treat approximately 6,000 people, are already on their way to Vermont, with additional supplies expected to arrive weekly. They will be stored securely in a state facility while awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval, and then distributed to the state’s hospitals.
Among the first to be vaccinated will be frontline workers, including those working with sick patients in the hospital and acute care settings; other healthcare workers; first responders; older adults living in congregant settings; and people of all ages with underlying conditions that put them at high risk.
Dobson cautioned that there is no timetable or waiting list for the vaccine, and advised people to check the websites of SVMC and the state Department of Health to learn when and how they can get immunized.
The complete list of who will be vaccinated and in what priority continues to be developed at the federal, state, and local level, Dobson said. Priorities are based on each group’s risk of contracting COVID-19 and their vulnerabilities.
The imminent availability of the vaccine is “incredibly exciting,” he said, “and I want to provide some reassurance that, barring any unforeseen barriers, we will be getting it to the public in a safe and rapid manner.”
The FDA is to meet Thursday to conduct a final review of a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer, and will meet later this month on a vaccine developed by Moderna. Both have been determined to be 95-percent effective against the virus that causes COVID-19.
Plans call for distributing and then administering about 40 million doses of the two companies’ vaccines by the end of the year — with the first doses shipping within hours of FDA clearance.
Both vaccines require two doses a few weeks apart. When the first shots are available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that health care workers and nursing home patients get priority.
Vermont has about 17,756 workers in that initial group, which includes people who work in intensive care units and emergency departments, first responders and staffers at long-term care facilities.
Dobson said that SVMC is “preparing to administer the vaccine in the same way we gave flu shots throughout October. Clinics will take place in the parking lot closest to the Monument Avenue Extension entrance. Patients will drive up and receive the vaccine through their car window.”
In time, patients will be able to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations at their doctor’s office, he said.
By the expected completion of the first phase of the state’s vaccination plan in April, about 130 million Americans, or one-third of the population, will have received their shots, Dobson said.
Taking production capacities for each of the 10 candidate vaccines into account, he said, it’s possible that almost everyone who wants it will receive the vaccine by fall of 2021.
Dobson said the vaccine will end the pandemic in 2021 in some countries, but that COVID-19 will continue as a disease similar to the many other infectious diseases in society, disproportionately affecting the vulnerable.
Over the weekend, Vermont crossed the threshold of 5,000 cases of people with the virus that causes COVID-19.
On Monday, the state reported 65 new cases, bringing the total to 5,080 since the pandemic began.
The state also reported two more COVID-19 fatalities, bringing the statewide total to 81.