Weeks after Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Department of Health drew sharp criticism for barring out-of-state college students from Vermont’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the state is preparing to open vaccine appointments to those very students.
Part-time Vermont residents — including college students who usually live in other states — will be allowed to register for vaccine appointments as of April 29, the health department said Wednesday. To date, only college students who are also full-time Vermont residents, or who plan to remain in the state during the summer, have been eligible to sign up for shots.
In a press release, the health department said the new guidelines are based on the state’s vaccine supply from the federal government.
The April 29 date could be moved up, depending on the availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was suspended last week, according to Jason Maulucci, Scott’s press secretary.
Based on conversations with federal officials and other governors, Scott believes it is “quite likely” that Johnson & Johnson shots will be in use again soon, Maulucci said in an email Wednesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control will deliver an update on the vaccine’s viability this Friday.
After Vermont opened its vaccine rollout to all residents over age 16 last weekend, out-of-state college students and other part-time Vermont residents were among the last adults in the state ineligible to receive shots.
Before Wednesday, Scott and health department officials maintained that allocating shots to college students from other states who will not be staying in Vermont could limit the number of doses available to full-time residents.
Sixty percent of Vermont’s 38,000 college students were from outside the state in 2019, according to data gathered by the Vermont Higher Education Council.
Scott at one point credited the decision to a need to “take care of Vermonters first.”
The move left out-of-state students — especially students of color, who were briefly eligible to get the vaccine after the state opened its rollout to all people of color on March 30 — confused and disheartened. Experts questioned the public health strategy of barring a large portion of the state’s young population from the rollout.
As officials have cautioned that Covid-19 variants are to blame for high rates of viral spread through the spring, young people have driven Vermont’s steady, high case numbers. But case numbers, including among young people, are beginning to slow, officials said at Scott’s regularly scheduled press conference Tuesday.
Meanwhile, some Vermont colleges are considering vaccine mandates for students — provided that the vaccine supply can handle such rules.
Maulucci said opening vaccines to all adult residents of the state will mark an important milestone.
“Now that supply allows for eligibility to be broadly expanded, the end of this difficult period is truly in sight,” Maulucci said. “And if Vermonters continue to do their part and sign up [for vaccines] — which they’ve done so far — we are on pace for a much more normal and great summer.”
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