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Vermont to wind down state-run vaccine clinics as it monitors incoming BA.2 coronavirus variant

A photo of Phil Scott at a podium with Vermont and American flags in the background.
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Gov. Phil Scott's administration announced Tuesday it would be winding down state-run COVID-19 vaccine clinics, shifting shots fully to doctor's offices and pharmacies.

Vermont is continuing to wind down measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including state-run COVID-19 vaccine clinics, the Scott administration announced Tuesday.

At the same time, administration officials say they’re keeping an eye on the BA.2 coronavirus variant, a more contagious version of the omicron variant. New data from the Centers for Disease Control shows BA.2 now makes up 55% of COVID cases in New England.

“COVID’s not gone, it’s subsided,” Gov. Phil Scott said during his weekly press briefing Tuesday. “There’ll be this variant, and new variants in the future, and we just have to learn how we deal with that.”

More from VPR: Masks may be coming off in Vermont, but other COVID protocols are here to stay

State officials said they’re using wastewater surveillance and genetic sequencing to track BA.2’s spread in Vermont. They also said they’re watching COVID-19 hospitalizations, which don’t appear to be increasing dramatically.

As of Tuesday, 14 people were hospitalized in Vermont with COVID-19, including two in the ICU.

“Half of those who are hospitalized, are there for something else, and they just found out that they have COVID,” Scott said. "We're not seeing anything that gives us great concern at this point in time."

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine noted early data shows that the COVID-19 vaccine appears to protect against severe illness and death with the BA.2 variant. He said that’s why it continues to be important for children ages 5 to 11 to have two shots, and for people 12 and older to have two shots and a booster.

Levine specifically asked Vermonters 65 and older to get up to date on their shots if they aren’t already. Currently state data shows that older Vermonters have the highest vaccination rates: 79% for ages 65-79, 87% for ages 70-74, and 84% for ages 75 and older.

But Levine said those numbers could be even higher.

“It’s just not worth the risk of getting really sick,” he said.

More from NPR: U.K. COVID cases are rising. Health officials are watching to see if the U.S. is next

As for where to get COVID-19 shots and boosters, state officials said they expect the state-run clinics to be shut down by mid-April.

Levine said traffic has noticeably decreased at the clinics, Vermonters should now go to their health care provider or pharmacy for the COVID-19 vaccine. He added that parents of kids aged 6 months to 4 years old should go to their pediatrician when a vaccine is approved for that age group.

“For those who do not have a primary care clinician, and for special populations, we will continue to fill any gaps, and work to ensure equitable access to vaccines through small community clinics,” Levine said.

The health commissioner said that Vermont is ready to stand vaccine clinics up again if the need arises in the future.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet digital producer Elodie Reed @elodie_reed.

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