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The State Has Expanded Vaccination To Include Select Professions. Here's What You Should Know

A woman wearing two masks and a face shield holds up a vaccine against a red backdrop
Elodie Reed
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VPR File
On Tuesday, the Scott Administration announced a major expansion of vaccine eligibility for Vermonters in select professions. The change could allow some to sign up for appointments, like the one shown here, as early as next week.

Updated 11:44 a.m. 3/3/21

In a highly anticipated announcement at today's COVID-19 press briefing, Gov. Phil Scott and members of his administration announced significant updates to the state's vaccination strategy.Starting next week, Vermonters with specified health conditions will begin to be eligible to get their vaccines. But so will teachers and school staff, as well as public safety and correctional officers.

Teachers have been advocating for prioritization for months, with even more urgency since the governor announced his desire to get all schools fully open for in-person learning by the end of April. But what about other essential workers?

Vermont Edition host Jane Lindholm spoke with Health Commissioner Mark Levine about the state’s decision to expand vaccine eligibility next week. The following has been selected from their conversation, originally broadcast at 1 p.m. on March 2, 2021. Listen to the full show, here.

Who is in this new group of people who will become eligible for vaccination next week, based on their profession?

Starting next week, K-12 teachers and staff who work in schools will be eligible for vaccine appointments. So too will child care providers and people who work in child care facilities, as well as certain public safety employees, including staff at correctional facilities.

More from VPR: Frequently Asked Questions (And Answers) About The COVID-19 Vaccine In Vermont

According to Health Commissioner Mark Levine, bus drivers and other types of school staff who work directly with students will also be eligible for vaccination. School administrative and office staff will qualify for vaccination as well, provided they work in a school building, rather than at a centralized district office.

The new rule applies to both public and private schools.

A chart shows which Vermonters will next be eligible for vaccine appointments and when.
Credit Vermont Department of Health, Courtesy
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A graphic from the Vermont Department of Health shows an updated timeline for newly expanded vaccine eligibility, thanks to the newly approved single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Levine said the state is still working out details about who qualifies as a child care provider under this provision. Levine said people who fall clearly within the child care system would qualify for a vaccine.

However, “a person who’s doing babysitting duties or what have you for one child, that probably would not be in the group we envisioned,” he said.

More details about this group are expected at Friday’s press briefing.

Levine said at this time, college staff are not being prioritized for vaccination.

Who will become eligible for vaccination next week based on their age or health status?

Additionally, starting Monday, March 8, individuals 55 and older with certain high-risk health conditions will be eligible to register for vaccination appointments, as part of phase 5A. Those health conditions include:

  • Current cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Heart disease, excluding high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised (weakened immune system), due to solid organ transplant, blood, or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, or other causes; or HIV with a low CD4 cell count or not on HIV treatment; prolonged use of corticosteroids or other immune suppressing drugs
  • Severe obesity (BMI of 40 or above)
  • Pregnancy
  • Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
  • Disabilities including chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome; intellectual disabilities (IQ of 70 or below); disabilities that compromise lung function (neurologic and muscular conditions such as muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, and multiple sclerosis).
  • Sickle cell disease

Starting March 15, anyone who is 16-64 with one of the above conditions will be eligible for a vaccine appointment. Vermonters who are eligible for vaccination because of a health condition will be asked to self-certify eligibility, but won’t need a doctor to get a vaccine.
Individuals 65 and older are currently eligible to sign up for vaccine appointments and may continue to do so, here. State officials expect to open vaccination appointments for healthy individuals aged 60 and older in late March.

More from Vermont Edition: Health Commissioner Discusses Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Vt.'s Vaccination Strategy

What is the state's reasoning behind expanding eligibility to include people working in school, child care and correctional settings?

Health Commissioner Mark Levine told Vermont Edition Tuesday, “Providing this level of vaccination to these populations is really critical to keeping Vermonters healthy and safe.”

Levine said returning to in-person learning is a priority for state officials, and vaccination will help make that possible.

Why are incarcerated people not included in this next round of vaccination, though corrections officers and facility staff are? When will the state be able to ease lockdowns in correctional facilities?

Health Commissioner Mark Levine told Vermont Edition Tuesday that social distancing, masking and other protocols remain in place in Vermont prisons, to mitigate risk. He pointed out that COVID-19 is being brought into facilities through staff, not people incarcerated there or visitors, which are not currently allowed.

Additionally, he said that some people incarcerated in Vermont are starting to become eligible for vaccination due to their age.

More From Vermont Edition: Is Vermont Doing Enough To Address Racial Inequities In Its Vaccine Program?

When asked if this new vaccination policy will allow the state to lift lockdown measures in Vermont correctional facilities, Levine said that’s not likely to happen soon.

“I think you'd find a process somewhat in parallel to the way long term care facilities have been evolving. And they, of course, have most of their residents, not just staff, getting vaccinated as well.”

He added:

“I don't think we're apt to see a sudden change in the stance on the correctional facilities until we have a much higher percentage of the population living there [vaccinated]. That's just a fact of life, that we still owe it to them to be as protected as possible.”

Does this new announcement align with the Scott Administration's stated goal of ensuring racial equity in the distribution of vaccines in Vermont?

Levine acknowledged there are disparities in risk between Vermonters of color and white Vermonters when it comes to contracting COVID-19.

“We do know that people in our BIPOC communities specifically often work in public-facing positions, often work in positions that require public transportation to get to work and often live in multigenerational households, at about twice the rate of white Vermonters,” Levine said Tuesday. “All of those factors put you at increased risk for getting COVID, nevermind for perhaps having a hospitalization as a result of that.”

Levine said that BIPOC Vermonters are disproportionately represented among people of all ages prioritized for vaccination through the state’s programs for those with high-risk health conditions.

A slide shows charts that illustrate disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infection among
Credit Vermont Department of Health, Courtesy
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A slide from the Vermont Department of Health weekly data summary published Feb. 26, 2021, shows rates of COVID-19 are twice as high among BIPOC Vermonters as among non-Hispanic white Vermonters. Additionally, BIPOC Vermonters who contract COVID-19 have higher rates of most chronic diseases than non-Hispanic white Vermonters who are infected.

“I believe we will find there is a disproportionate representation of the BIPOC community there as well, because we know that from a public health data, there's a higher risk for chronic disease in that population,” Levine said.

Additionally, Levine said, “We do know that the distribution of age in the BIPOC community skews a little younger than in the white community in Vermont."

Levine pointed to special clinics held by the health department in Winooski and Burlington, where entire multi-generational households could be vaccinated if one member of the household is eligible by virtue of their age.

More from VPR: 'There's Some Gaps': Racial Justice Advocate Calls For Vt. To Revisit COVID Vax Plan

What science is the health department drawing on to make the decision to vaccinate teachers, school and correctional facility staff and child care providers, but not other essential workers?

Levine said the key factor in this decision for the state was the news that more vaccines will soon be available to Vermont than previously expected, with the FDA's approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the weekend.

“I wouldn't say it's the science that we're using to back up the vaccinating of teachers and the public safety system,” Levine said. “It's really that now, with the additional and somewhat unexpected increase in vaccine production provided by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we can now simultaneously complete both our highest risk groups and contribute to the cause of public safety for all Vermonters, as well as the priority of getting our kids – who, as we've said, have had severe challenges with remote learning – back into an in-person education system.”

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