Health Care

Younger folks, ‘keep it up’: Declining cases led by Vermonters in their 20s

Woman showing shoulder to EMT holding sterile wipe
Anna St. John receives her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in Beecher Falls on March 29, 2021. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

After weeks of worrisome Covid-19 rates among young Vermonters, cases are on the decline, state officials said at a press conference Tuesday.

Cases overall in Vermont were down 24% over the past week, and the biggest drops were among people age 20 to 29, followed by those age 10 to 19. Their case rates remained higher than the general population, according to the state’s weekly statistical report.

“Our recent Covid-19 data provides a really optimistic picture for both the coming weeks, and also the coming months,” said Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. “In the short term, the steady declines in our case rates give us greater confidence that we’re now moving in the right direction in Vermont.”

Young Vermonters age 16 to 29 recently became the latest age group to become eligible to register for the vaccine. About 47,000 have registered, or 40% of that age group, said Jenney Samuelson, deputy secretary of the Agency of Human Services.

Every adult in the state is now eligible for the vaccine. Half of Vermonters age 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 37% have completed the vaccination process. 

Dr. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, urged all Vermonters, particularly younger Vermonters, to sign up for the vaccine if they hadn’t done so already. “This is how we get back our lives together once again,” he said.

“I appreciate all your patience and understanding to get us here. This is a tremendous public health achievement,” he said.

Gov. Phil Scott said the vaccine would be “our ticket to the front” in the state’s race against variants of the virus. “Once you’re vaccinated, the risk of you getting sick is very low, and you can feel safe to do more of the things we’ve missed over the last 12 months,” he said.

Pieciak said the data showed the state is on track to meet its vaccination targets for reopening July 4. Officials are aiming for 50 to 60% of all Vermonters to have at least one dose by May 1. 

The state’s allocation of vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna are expected to remain stable this week, but pharmacies should receive a slight uptick in doses, Scott said. With the loss of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while blood-clot issues are studied, he said, “we think we’ll be able to get by, but admittedly it’s going to be a bit of a struggle.”

The May 1 and June 1 vaccination targets were based on conservative estimates of vaccine allocations, Samuelson said, which makes her confident Vermont will be able to meet that goal. 

In response to questions about long wait times for appointments, Samuelson said the state is still dependent on the vaccine supply it receives from the federal government. She said the state has appointments available in mid-May in almost every county, and encouraged Vermonters to check the state and pharmacy websites regularly to check for earlier slots.

Pieciak said the high demand for the vaccine in Vermont is a good thing. “Other states are seeing their appointments go unfilled,” he said.

“Even though it’s frustrating in the short term, people should just understand it’s really a good thing,” Pieciak said of the clamor for vaccine appointments. ”It’s going to serve us really well in the long term, because it means Vermonters are stepping up to get that limited supply.”

Levine said he does not believe the Johnson & Johnson pause will lead to greater vaccine hesitancy in the long term, pointing to data that shows many people are still pressing to get the vaccine. But Scott said he is concerned that a lengthy delay could discourage people.

Mike Pieciak
Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The federal vaccine advisory board is scheduled to meet this Friday to review the evidence of a rare blood clot complication in Johnson & Johnson recipients, Scott said. So far, only six cases have been reported among about 7 million Johnson & Johnson recipients.

“I feel as though [the blood-clot investigation] might galvanize those who were hesitant before,” Scott said. “… I believe that this is going to hurt the longer it goes, so that’s why I’m hopeful on that Friday, that they will be moving forward and lifting this pause.”

Census data shows that Vermont leads the country in the percentage of people who say they will probably get vaccinated, Pieciak said.

“We anticipate being so high here in Vermont that, when all is said and done, we just think we will be one of the most vaccinated states and one of the safest,” he said.

Many have cited the herd immunity threshold as an important target for the vaccination process, but Levine said that threshold is still unclear and not necessarily a “magic number” to combat the virus. 

“You won’t find a number, and you won’t find a consensus on the number amongst the public health community, the epidemiology community, or infectious disease and virology community. It’s really a broader range,” he said. 

Levine said that 70% immunity seemed too low, while 90% seemed too high, so he’s settled on talking about it at about 75% to 85%. But even 70% would be “so great,” he said.

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Erin Petenko

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