Vaccination rollout

Retired nurse Lorrain Thurber inoculates Jean Haynes of Bennington during a Southwestern Vermont Health Care vaccination clinic in the former Southern Vermont College gymnasium in Bennington in October. 

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BENNINGTON — With the federal deadline Thursday for health care workers in most states to have at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, the chief medical officer at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center said his facility was in compliance.

Dr. Trey Dobson said over 98 percent of staff are vaccinated, “and those that are not have the appropriate exemptions in place.” Exemptions can be granted for a demonstrated religious objection or if the person has had a serious allergic reaction to the drug.

“It doesn’t mean, ‘I’ve got a little bit of a rash at the site of the vaccine injection,’” Dobson said. “It means they had a severe reaction.”

Dobson said among medical personnel, “we had hardly anyone who had an objection to the vaccine.”

He said some support staff had concerns and took a bit longer to do their research before agreeing to be vaccinated. But as of the Thursday federal deadline, everyone eligible was in compliance with the federal mandate.

“That’s really good news,” Dobson said. “I wasn’t surprised. But myself and all of the physicians and nurses were comforted by that fact.” He said they were aware of health care workers in other parts of the country who are more resistant to vaccination.

“We did say that to every single person … ‘Here’s your deadline, you have to abide by it,’” he said. “I’m not aware of any difficult conversations or folks threatening to leave.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last week threw out a Biden administration mandate that all workers at companies with 100 employees or more be vaccinated, or meet testing requirements. The high court upheld the mandate at all medical facilities that accept Medicaid and Medicare payments. Hospital officials in some parts of the country have voiced concern that — already stretched thin — they will lose more staff as a result of the requirement.

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After several days of reported daily COVID cases in Vermont falling below 1,000, the number jumped to 1,490 on Thursday, although the percent seven-day average was a relatively low 10.8 percent. In Vermont, 529 people have died from the virus since the pandemic began in 2020.

There were 53 new cases in Bennington County on Thursday. Windham County saw 19 new cases.

Dobson cautioned that the case counts are not entirely reflective of the current spread of the disease — a comment echoed by state officials, who have suggested the numbers could be four or five times higher. He said people are increasingly using at-home rapid tests and not reporting the results to the Health Department; and, he said, “some people have lost interest” and are not getting tested.

“We have large numbers of patients in the hospital, but we have not crested over our limit where our capacity would exceed our ability to provide the care standard we strive for,” Dobson said. “Fingers crossed, but we do not anticipate going over that line.”

Dobson sent a shoutout to the Bennington regional community, which has been supportive of the health care workers during this challenging time.

“The nurses and the doctors are very appreciative for what this community has done to support them,” he said, noting that the Meal Train program that allows people, businesses and organizations to provide meals to health care workers from local restaurants has been a success.

His message: “Thank you to everyone.”


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