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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine all asked for patience and pledged clear communication as the state gears up to distribute doses to Vermont’s oldest residents.

Officials also defended plans to initially focus on older Vermonters, starting with ages 75 and over, then five-year bands from ages 70-74 and ages 65-69. They’ll next turn to Vermonters ages 18-64 with underlying serious health conditions. The state will also prioritize outreach to Black and indigenous people and people of color, and work with home health services and emergency medical services to deliver vaccines to homebound Vermonters.

While a Change.org petition in favor of prioritizing teacher vaccinations had more than 4,700 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, Scott and Smith said they’re sticking to the plan, due to the the limited availability of doses and the “moral imperative” of vaccinating the state’s most vulnerable residents.

More than 90 percent of the state’s 169 COVID-19 deaths are people ages 65 and older, Smith, Levine and Scott said.

“If we were getting more doses [of vaccine] we’d vaccinate a broader group. But we have to deal with reality,” Scott said. “We want everyone to have opportunity to be vaccinated. If more becomes available, we can quickly scale up.”

Scott said he’s hopeful that President Joe Biden’s authorization of the Defense Production Act would help increase the number of doses, allowing Vermont to broaden its vaccine strategy. He said he wanted to avoid the fate of states including New York which found themselves forced to cancel vaccinations due to lack of supplies. “They overpromised, and we can’t do that,” Scott said.

DOS AND DON’TS

Information can be found at https://www.healthvermont.gov/myvaccine, and Smith said the site would be updated with a map showing the towns where the state’s 54 distribution sites in 39 towns. The state made every effort to select sites with easy access, and is urging recipients to register for the site closest to their homes.

Registration will require a date of birth, address, email and phone number, Smith said, and insurance information if available (but not mandatory).

Smith and Scott urged Vermonters who are not eligible yet not to try to game the system for earlier access.

“Your strategy might hurt or impact someone else ... it’s not the Vermont way,” Scott said.

“We have put this process in place to protect those at highest risk. But we cannot do it alone,” Smith said. “We need your help and understanding to make it successful. That also means trying to not find ways around the system.”

While the registration system does not allow for couples and family members to sign up at the same time, coordinators at the vaccination sites will be directed to use “common sense,” Scott said.

Don’t call the local hospital, your health provider, the state 211 hotline or the Department of Health to “get on the list,” because that won’t work, Smith said.

The registration website address and phone numbers for registration will be made public Monday. Officials asked that residents assist loved ones, family members and friends in registering online to ease the crush on the phone bank.

For those registering by phone, there will be 400 people taking calls when registration opens, but there’s likely to be high demand, Smith said. He asked that callers not hang up and call back if placed on hold, because that will put those callers at the end of the line.

Vermonters getting vaccinated will be asked to provide their name and date of birth. They will be asked to sign a vaccine administration waiver for consent to receive a dose, and will be asked to remain at site for about 15 minutes to monitor for any immediate reactions to the injection.

The system cannot accommodate walk-ins, Smith said.

HOMEBOUND BUT HEALTHY

Scott and Levine, who have been quarantined since Tuesday after being exposed to a person who tested positive for the coronavirus, both reported that they are feeling well. Scott hopes to be freed from quarantine on Tuesday, when he’s been rescheduled to deliver his fiscal 2022 budget address.

Despite his situation, Scott intends to wait his turn for a vaccination.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Scott said. “I’m going to do what we ask other Vermonters to do. ... It’s good for us when we get to walk in the shoes of others we’ve asked to do the same thing.”

Levine said his potential exposure “fit the definition” of what the Vermont Department of Health has warned of — cumulative exposure over 15 minutes. The state contact tracing team asked “great and practical questions,” he said.

“Like the rest of us I’ve had to rethink my daily patterns,” Levine said, even wearing a mask at home. “I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s what we must do.”

The briefing was handled remotely due to Levine, Scott and other administration officials being quarantined. A glitch materialized when reporters were not able to “unmute,” but they emailed or texted their questions directly to communications director Rebecca Kelley, who asked the questions on reporters’ behalf.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.

Greg Sukiennik joined New England Newspapers as a reporter at The Berkshire Eagle in 1995. He worked for The AP in Boston, and at ESPN.com, before rejoining NENI in 2016. He was managing editor of all three NENI Vermont newspapers from 2017-19.


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