MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott reported good news on vaccine allocation during Tuesday’s press conference updating the public on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After getting off a call with the White House and other governors, Scott reported that the state’s allocations of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines would be increasing in the coming weeks as the state looks to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of making all Americans eligible for vaccination by May 1.
“If we get the doses we need, we’ll exceed the goal,” Scott said, teasing a Friday rollout of the state’s vaccination strategy for the remaining age groups.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine also confirmed that one of the Missisquoi Valley Union High School hockey teams experienced an outbreak of COVID-19, which along with cases in the community and school led officials to cancel the school’s winter sports season and switch students to remote learning. Levine did not specify if it was the boys or girls hockey team.
Here are four key takeaways from the governor’s Tuesday press conference:
1. MVU outbreak
In response to a rise in cases in the school, community and athletics, Missisquoi Valley School District officials on March 11 announced that the remainder of the winter athletics season would be cancelled and that the high school would switch to remote learning for up to 28 days.
After confirming Tuesday that one of the MVU hockey teams had an outbreak, Levine said there may have been transmission of the virus from the MVU hockey team to a team from Essex.
“That’s the only time we’ve seen that in Vermont thus far,” Levine said.
Secretary of Education Dan French said he had spoken with MVSD Superintendent Julie Regimbal on Monday. He said the district’s decision was a function of community spread that led to the virus showing up in the schools and athletics program.
“It has, as a high school, been much more extraordinarily impacted by the virus than we’ve seen in other schools in the state,” Levine said of MVU.
2. Increased vaccine allocation
Scott reported that Pfizer and Moderna will be increasing production of their vaccine to 16 million doses this week and next week, and an additional 100,000 doses of the two vaccines will be distributed each week nationally through the federal pharmacy vaccination program. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also see an increase in 400,000 doses this week, with an additional 150,000 to go through the pharmacy program.
In all, Scott said Vermont’s allocation would see an increase of about 800 doses per week starting next week. Projected increases from all three vaccine manufacturers could see the state receive an additional 4,000 to 5,000 doses per week by the end of April, Scott said.
“This is the assurance we’ve been waiting for,” he said.
Scott said his administration would announce on Friday when the next age group would be eligible for vaccination, and that as long as the supply holds up, he anticipates being able to outline the full schedule for all remaining age groups.
Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, reported that more than one in four adult Vermonters have received at least one vaccine dose as of Tuesday.
Smith said incarcerated individuals age 18 and over with high-risk conditions will be vaccinated this week. The roughly 185 individuals in that category should take two to three weeks to vaccinate, he said.
Clinics for educators and school staff are also being set up in Essex, Franklin and Orange counties this week.
3. American Rescue Plan funding for Vermont
Susanne Young, secretary of the Agency of Administration, said Vermont would be receiving a total of $2.7 billion in funding from the recently passed pandemic relief package, bringing the total aid since the start of the pandemic to $7.5 billion.
While much of the guidance and details of the funding have yet to be hashed out, Young said there were some key changes compared to the last relief package.
Of the funding, $1.36 billion will go toward state and local government, with $191 million of that going directly to cities, towns and villages. Because of its size, Burlington will get $19 million directly from the Treasury, while the rest of the funding is divided among municipalities and distributed by the state, Young said.
Young said the first half of that funding will be available this spring, with the rest to become available early next year. When the state receives the funding, it has 30 days to distribute it to municipalities.
“Make no mistake, it will be our goal to distribute the funds as soon after its arrival as possible,” Young said.
Uses of that money have been expanded from the last relief package to include revenue replacement and investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. Municipalities will also have until Dec. 31, 2024 to spend it.
The state government will receive $1.16 billion, with $113 million of that set aside for critical capital projects related to education and health care, Young said. She said the state will have to apply to use that allocation of the funding, but no application or guidance has been formulated yet.
“There is much opportunity to be thoughtful in our approach to spending this money,” Young said.
4. Cases trending down among older Vermonters
According to state data presented by Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, the average age of Vermonters reporting cases of COVID-19 has been going down.
Since vaccinations began, Pieciak said the median age of those reporting new cases has decreased, and currently sits at 32 years old. He said this is the result of high vaccine uptake among Vermont’s older population, which leads to fewer vulnerable Vermonters contracting the virus.
Pieciak said more than 84% of the age-75-and-older population has started or completed vaccination, compared to the national average of 71%. Those age 70 to 74 saw a 25% increase in vaccination uptake this past week, with 80% reporting having started or completed vaccination.
“We are one of the leading states in terms of the vaccination percentage among this population,” he said.
Levine said the public can expect daily case totals to be between 50 and 80 or between 130 and 175 over the next several weeks as vaccinations continue.
“We’ve made great progress in vaccination so far, but it will take some time to see an impact on COVID-19 cases,” he said, noting that the decreasing cases among the older age groups is important.