Vt. to open vaccination to people ages 75 and up as rollout expands in Twin States

  • A nurse administers the Moderna vaccine to a health care worker at the Putnam Clubhouse at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. The first large scale vaccination site for the coronavirus in Massachusetts is being held at Gillette Stadium. A soft launch was held Friday before officially opening Monday, Jan. 18 for first responders and health care workers to receive the Moderna vaccine. (Mark Stockwell/The Sun Chronicle via AP) MARK STOCKWELL/THE SUN CHRONICLE

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2021 9:41:38 PM
Modified: 1/15/2021 9:41:35 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Public health officials in both states say they are gearing up to begin vaccinating older adults in coming weeks as part of the next phase of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

Vermont has nearly completed administering coronavirus vaccines to residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities and front-line health workers and will start vaccinating residents aged 75 and older starting the week of Jan. 25, state officials said Friday.

“This approach is all about vaccinating those more likely to die from COVID so we can protect them as early as possible,” Gov. Phil Scott said at his biweekly virus briefing.

That age group is comprised of about 49,000 Vermonters and it’s expected to take about six weeks to complete the vaccinations. That group will be followed by residents 70 and older, and then 65 and up.

State officials said it’s critical that Vermonters know that the state gets a limited supply of doses each week.

“As long as the supply is steady, which currently is about 8,800 doses each week, we will have vulnerable Vermonters vaccinated by the end of the winter. And if the supply of doses increases we’ll get to them faster,” said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

During a virtual meeting of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley on Friday, Rudy Fedrizzi, the Vermont Department of Health director of public health services in the White River Junction area, said one of the biggest challenges and sources of continued uncertainty is the quantity of doses that will be available.

While his office is preparing to begin vaccine clinics for Vermonters in Phase 2 — including those over 75 and those with underlying medical conditions that might make them more susceptible for developing serious illness should they contract COVID-19 — Fedrizzi said that being able to operate the clinics hinges on whether the necessary doses are available at the time.

“If vaccine was available the same way the vaccine for flu is typically available (we) could make incredibly clear plans,” Fedrizzi said. “Everything is so tentative. That complicates the messaging for sure.”

Beginning the week of Jan. 25, Fedrizzi’s district, which includes 22 towns, plans to run two clinics a week — one in White River Junction and the other in Randolph — providing 300 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at each. Registration for those who qualify will be possible online and by phone, he said. But, he said, the district’s ability to hold the clinics is “entirely dependent on do we have enough vaccine?”

While Vermont is getting 8,800 doses of vaccine per week, New Hampshire officials have said they get between 17,000 and 18,000 doses per week. The federal government is distributing the vaccines to states based on population and New Hampshire has more than double the population of Vermont.

As of Friday, Vermont had given out 34,700 doses of vaccine, according to the state’s dashboard, while New Hampshire had given out 58,711 doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker.

Fedrizzi described issues related to vaccine availability in response to concerns raised by others in Friday’s Zoom meeting, sharing the frustration some are feeling about their inability to get clear answers about where and when they might expect to get vaccinated.

“The local clinic just keeps throwing up their hands,” said Regina Downer, a community nurse who serves the southern Vermont communities of Weston, Londonderry, South Londonderry, Peru, Landgrove and Andover. “That makes people really anxious.”

Barbara Farnsworth, the manager of community health improvement at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, said she and others at D-H are working to implement Gov. Chris Sununu’s updated plan, which he announced on Thursday, to begin rolling out vaccines to people over 65 and people with more than one underlying health condition beginning later this month. Farnsworth said the health system had ordered vaccine and gotten staff ready to distribute vaccines to people over 75, but will be shifting gears to provide vaccines to the broader category of older adults sooner.

“We are working around the clock,” she said.

Farnsworth didn’t have a date yet for when D-H would begin vaccinating patients and she said that healthy people who qualify for the vaccines ought to look to the state’s fixed sites, rather than their health care provider, for a vaccine. More information about COVID-19 vaccines for New Hampshire residents is available at vaccines.nh.gov. Registrations for Granite Staters 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions begins on Jan. 22 and vaccinations at state-run clinics begin on Jan. 26.

In Vermont, online and telephone registrations for residents 75 and older begins on Jan. 25.

More information is available at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/about-covid-19-vaccines-vermont.

Health care providers in both states have asked that people avoid calling their medical providers in order to get more information about the vaccines.

On Friday, Dartmouth-Hitchcock sent an email to current patients urging them to prepare for the vaccine rollout by creating a myD-H account through which patients will be able to schedule appointments once vaccines are available. The health system also will be hosting a Facebook Live event on Tuesday at noon to discuss COVID-19 vaccines.

Once more doses are available, Fedrizzi said he expects medical practices, visiting nurse associations, retail pharmacies and the National Guard will all play a role in getting them out to Vermonters as they become eligible and sign up to receive it.

The Health Department’s clinics in White River Junction and Randolph will be run by state employees as well as medical reserve corps volunteers, Fedrizzi said. He asked that those who are interested in helping with the vaccine rollout register to become members of the Upper Valley Medical Reserve Corps. Registration is available at http://oncallforvt.org.

On the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley, public health officials are seeking a new, larger location to serve as the fixed site for vaccinating residents in the Lebanon area, said Nenia Corcoran, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Upper Valley Public Health network.

The current site, one of 13 fixed sites around the state, is the Lebanon armory on Heater Road. So far, it has been used for vaccinating health care workers not employed by hospitals or long-term care facilities, as well as first responders. The Lebanon site is run by workers shared by another of the state’s sites, so it has only been open two or three days a week, Corcoran said. But she said she hopes it will be open five days a week “at some point.”

New Hampshire aims to complete Phase 1b — including those over 65 and those with more than one of several specific medical conditions — by the end of March; and then move on to teachers and child care providers, she said.

“The purpose of these tiers is to prevent deaths and hospitalizations,” she said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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