I hope you’ve been staying warm and also enjoying these bright sunny winter days! As you likely already know, today marks the first day that members of the general public can sign up for a COVID vaccination. Most frontline health care workers and residents in long term care facilities have received at least their first dose of vaccine, thus the state is ready to move to the next group of Vermonters who have been prioritized by the Governor and state health officials to receive the COVID vaccine. Below is some information about how the process will work, as well as a few additional updates.
COVID Vaccination Update
Starting today, Vermonters aged 75 and older may sign up to receive a COVID vaccination. An appointment is required and can be made online at the VT Department of Health vaccinations website or by calling 855-722-7878. It’s likely to be faster to schedule an appointment online, but accessing and navigating the website may be challenging for some people, so please help friends and family members register for a vaccination if they need it. You can also watch this video about the process of registering for a vaccination and read a answers to frequently asked questions about COVID vaccinations in Vermont. The registration system and process is similar to the one that has been used for COVID testing, so it should be familiar for many people who’ve received a COVID test.
Vaccination appointments will begin on Wednesday, January 27, and given the demand for vaccinations, it’s really important that you keep your appointment if at all possible. Vaccination sites will be available in Addison County in Vergennes and Middlebury, as well as in towns fairly close to some towns in Addison County or Huntington, including Hinesburg, Shelburne, Waterbury, Castleton, and Randolph. When you schedule an appointment, you’ll be able to pick the location most convenient for you. Due to storage requirements and precautions necessary for keeping and administering vaccinations, access sites must be able to meet certain health, safety, and logistical criteria and can’t be the same type of pop-up or drive-through set-up that’s often used for testing sites.
Please be patient, persistent, and polite when scheduling an appointment – remember that this is a new system with lots of people trying to access it simultaneously. Because there is such high demand and limited supply, you may not get the time or location you most want, so be flexible if possible. The Health Department is doing the best they can to get everyone who is eligible scheduled as soon as possible.
Masks are required during all vaccination appointments, which will be similar to a normal doctor’s appointment. If you need assistance getting to or during your vaccination appointment, a friend or family member can drive or accompany you to your appointment. If there isn’t someone in your close circle of family and friends who can drive you to the appointment, you may be able to get a ride to your appointment through Tri-Valley Transit’s Dial-A-Ride program, which is free for most people aged 60 and over. The Addison County Mutual Aid program may also be able to provide a volunteer driver. The Department of Health is working on a system for vaccinating people who are not able to leave their homes, but it’s not yet available. Again, you can get further information from vaccine FAQs list.
I’ve heard from many constituents asking why Vermont isn’t first prioritizing frontline or “essential” workers, such as childcare providers, grocery store and food service workers, and school teachers. I have had the opportunity to hear briefings from and ask questions of both Vermont’s Commissioner of Health and Secretary of Human Services and have pressed them both on the logic behind the decision to start with older Vermonters first and then move to younger Vermonters with specific underlying health conditions, rather than prioritizing certain types of workers or professions, and their answer makes sense to me. Their priority in administering limited doses of COVID vaccines is to save lives.
Vermont’s general population is the second oldest in the country and all but eight of the 171 people who have died from COVID in Vermont have been over aged 60. The people most vulnerable to getting and dying from COVID are older Vermonters, so they are being prioritized for the first round of public vaccinations. As soon as feasible, appointments will become available for people over aged 70 and then over aged 65. Given the number of both vaccine doses and older Vermonters, getting everyone vaccinated will likely take several months. After that, appointments will be available for younger Vermonters with underlying health conditions. There is no waiting list, but there will be significant public information efforts made to keep everyone informed of next stages.
The Health Department has also made it clear that equity is a consideration in their vaccination efforts. Members of certain demographic groups have been disproportionately over-represented in Vermont’s COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death rates. Because of these “increased risks, historical harms and the resulting mistrust of health care and public health,” they have committed to “ensuring that Black, Indigenous and people of color in Vermont get the support they need, in the language they need, in the locations they need, to make informed choices and get scheduled for vaccinations.”
At this point, Vermont is receiving a limited number of vaccine doses each week, but I am hopeful that as the Biden Administration ramps of vaccine production, distribution, and access, we will receive more doses each week, which will enable our state to expand vaccine sites and appointments and speed up the process of getting vaccines to more Vermonters, including frontline workers across many vital professions. You can keep track of how many people have been vaccinated at the COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard. I know so many Vermonters have been asked to go above and beyond their “normal” work over this past year, and so many of us are stressed and exhausted. Thank you for all of your efforts. I will continue to ask questions, advocate for my constituents, and provide the best information I can.
Economic Stimulus Equity Fund
Last fall, the Vermont Legislature allocated $5.0 million to create the Economic Stimulus Equity Fund to provide stimulus payments for people who were unable to receive federal stimulus checks due to immigration status. In Addison County, the fund will benefit the hundreds of migrant farm workers who staff local dairy farms, as well as other people who live in our community but may not be American citizens, including refugees, visiting workers, some students, and those awaiting citizenship status. Payments are $1,200 for an eligible adult and $500 for each eligible dependent child, just like the payments that most Americans received last spring. The program is being administered by the Vermont Community Foundation and Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), in partnership with various organizations that serve specific sectors of immigrant communities in Vermont. Applicant information is kept strictly confidential and no government agency will know the names or identifying information of anyone who receives a payment. The deadline for applying is March 1. You can learn more about the program on the CVOEO website, which includes links to frequently asked questions and the program application in multiple languages.
Inauguration Day Thoughts
Last Wednesday was a wonderful day for millions of Americans, one that marked the belatedly peaceful transfer of power and the inauguration of a president who has committed to prioritizing a science-based response to the COVID pandemic, leading with equity and justice for BIPOC Americans, building back a country that values all people, and bridging the enormous divide we know exists in our country. For me, as a Democrat and person who has spent much of my life working for the advancement of women’s rights and women in leadership positions, it was thrilling to see our first woman and person of color take the oath as Vice President. I’m excited to watch the vision of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take root in our country.
Finally, as a Vermonter, it was good to see Bernie Sanders taking a no-nonsense approach to the big event, pragmatically wearing a warm overcoat and cozy mittens. While I thought Kamala Harris’ gorgeous royal purple, ankle-length jacket stole the fashion show, it was clear that Bernie’s mittens stole the hearts of many viewers (noted via thousands of amusing Bernie mitten memes on Twitter and every where!). The mitten-knitter is a second grade teacher from Essex Junction whose life has been turned upside down ever since Bernie’s mittens went viral. Read this Vermonty interview of mitten-maker Jen Ellis in which she talks about all the attention she and her mittens received immediately after the big day.
Stay safe and stay warm – wear a mask and mittens – like we do in Vermont.
*Header image from Vermont Department of Health