Fewer than 10,000 Vermonters have opted for Pfizer booster shots so far

  • Cat Neville, a University of Vermont nursing student, administers a third dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in Berlin on Oct. 2. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger VTDigger — GLENN RUSSELL

Published: 10/5/2021 10:05:41 PM
Modified: 10/5/2021 10:05:43 PM

Vanessa Lavigne heard about the Pfizer booster from a friend. Lavigne, 66, received her first two vaccine shots when Vermonters in her age group became eligible last winter. So when a friend mentioned the booster was available at the Costco pharmacy in Colchester on Friday afternoon, the Milton resident said she went right away.

“I’d like to think I’m more protected,” she said after. “But I’m still wearing a mask when I go places.”

Lavigne is among the thousands of Vermonters who became eligible for a third Pfizer shot as of Friday after the state issued guidelines for the booster. The guidelines mirror a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory that allows boosters for certain high-risk adults who received their second Pfizer shot more than six months ago.

The Scott administration has been touting vaccines and boosters as the only way to return Vermont to pre-pandemic daily living. Vermonters got a small taste of that reality earlier this summer, when vaccination rates increased above 80% of eligible residents. Then came the highly contagious Delta variant, pushing the state to impose vaccine mandates for state employees and a regimen for school testing. But Gov. Phil Scott has been reluctant to impose other sweeping measures because many eligible Vermonters — more than 88% -— are fully vaccinated.

The Agency of Human Services said that roughly 95,000 of the 192,000 Vermonters who received the two-dose Pfizer vaccine are eligible for the booster, officials from the Vermont Agency of Human Services said.

As of Tuesday, 9,000 of them had received booster shots, state leaders said at Tuesday’s weekly press conference. An additional 5,000 immunocompromised Vermonters have also received their third Pfizer shot, a plan approved by federal regulators last month.

Booster uptake has been slow so far, even though almost all Vermonters who received the Pfizer vaccine now qualify, said Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said Tuesday.

That group includes Lavigne and other people 65 and older. First responders, grocery store employees and other people at high risk of getting coronavirus at work are also on the list. People with certain high-risk, prevalent chronic conditions, including moderate to severe asthma, diabetes, obesity and chronic kidney disease, are also eligible.

Smith said the slow uptake is not about the availability of boosters, since every area in Vermont has booster offerings.

“I think it was a different sort of situation than it was with the initial rollouts of the vaccine,” Smith said. “I think people are waiting for, maybe, their primary care. You know a lot of them haven’t gotten to six months yet, so we’ll see the rollout sort of go in phases here as we move forward.”

Despite the slow start, the state offers mass vaccination clinics by appointment. The University of Vermont Medical Center is expected to open one of those clinics early next week, though the location is not yet final, according to Lisa Goodrich, vice president of medical group operations at the Burlington-based hospital.

Clinic staff could administer more than 1,000 doses a day at the vaccine site. The clinic would initially offer roughly 200 vaccine slots a day at first, but more slots would be added if demand increased, she added.

“The reason we’re going to be able to turn around and stand up a second mass vaccination site so quickly is because we know how to do it,” she said.

Even if demand for boosters remains low, Goodrich said, the clinic could offer vaccinations to younger children and boosters for the other two COVID-19 vaccines as soon as federal regulators allow it.

Federal regulators are expected to consider booster shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines next week. Regulators will also weigh in later in the week on the safety and efficacy of “mix and match” boosters — people who got one type of vaccine initially could get a booster from a different type.

At Kinney Drugs in Essex Junction, demand for the boosters has been robust, staff pharmacist Hayley Hooks said Monday afternoon. Flu vaccination season is in full swing, but a lot of people are coming for the Pfizer booster, she said, and very few are coming in for their first or second dose.

Between walk-ins, appointments and the general demands of running a pharmacy, Hooks said things are as hectic as they were earlier in the pandemic.

“There’s a vaccine scheduled every 15 minutes,” she said. “And if we can sneak in people that are walking in, we’re trying to do that ourselves, and we’re trying to fill scripts. We’re trying to do all of our orders so it has that same feel.”

Unlike those hurried first weeks of vaccine rollout, however, there’s no need to schedule additional appointments with booster shot recipients. One jab does the job. Patients also tend to have fewer, if any, questions, so administering the shots is generally quick, unless there’s a queue.

“We are encouraging appointments, just because we’re doing flu vaccines, and we are doing boosters,” she said. “And unless you have a lot of patience and you’re willing to wait around for a little bit, then really the appointment is the way to go.”

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