Health Care

Data shows vaccine distribution rising

Medical personnel from the Vermont Department of Health prepares doses of Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in Winooski earlier this month. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The changing methods of vaccine distribution and rise in vaccine allocations are already having an effect on Vermont’s vaccine pace, significantly increasing the chances of opening up vaccines to the general population by the Biden administration’s goal of July.

If the state keeps up the pace, it would take about another 38 weeks to complete the vaccination of everyone in the state, or roughly until September.

Data from the Vermont Department of Health shows that the state has given the first vaccine dose to 15.5% of the population 16 and older and 61% of the population 75 and older — the first age group eligible to receive the vaccine.

The state has recently made people 70 and older eligible for the vaccine and plans to open up the program to people 65 and older next, followed by those with underlying health conditions

Vermont has balanced first and second doses, providing the booster shot with full protection almost as often as it provides the first jab. The state gave out 12,700 first doses and 7,800 second doses in the most recent week of data available.

That may be why Vermont has fallen behind somewhat compared to its neighbors in providing the first dose. In early January, Vermont was first in the Northeast and one of the leading states in the nation in percent of the population given the first dose.

Now, it has fallen behind Massachusetts and Connecticut in that rating and ranks 14th nationally in the percent of people who have gotten the first dose, according to federal data reported by the New York Times. It’s eighth in the nation in the percent of people who have gotten both the first and second dose.

The falling rate of first doses may also be related to Vermont’s unusual requirements for getting a vaccine. In Vermont, you must be 70 years of age or older to be eligible, with the exception of health care workers and long-term care residents. 

Vermont is one of only nine states that require people to be 70 or older, with others allowing anyone over 65 to get the vaccine. States are more divided on which essential workers may be qualified to get the vaccine: 30 states allow teachers to receive it, while others, like Vermont, have not opened up the vaccine to that group.

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Officials have defended this strategy by saying that the vast majority of deaths have occurred in the oldest age range and that the state’s strategy prevents chaos and confusion. 

But it’s unclear whether the state’s age banding has allowed Vermont to roll out its doses more quickly. Vermont has used 84% of the doses it’s been given, exactly the same as the national average.

So far, the new vaccine eligibility hasn’t evened the disparities between white Vermonters and people of color. Data shows that 14.4% of white Vermonters have received at least one dose, compared to 7.9% of Black Vermonters. Asian, Hispanic and Vermonters of other races also have a lower vaccination rate.

The percent of white Vermonters that have received the vaccine jumped about 5 percentage points since age banding began but rose by only 2 percentage points for Black Vermonters. Officials have promised to narrow racial disparities, but critics charge that age banding inherently prioritizes white Vermonters, who tend to be older and are less likely to be essential workers.

Geographic disparities also remain in place. Essex County, one of the state’s most remote counties, has a vaccination rate of 12% compared to the state rate of 15.5%. Rutland and Chittenden counties have the highest vaccination rates.

The vaccine is already showing signs of reducing illness and death among the state’s oldest residents and long-term care patients, officials said Friday. Vermont plans to soon open up its long-term care facilities to some programs and visitors.

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Erin Petenko

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