Gov. Phil Scott (copy)

Gov. Phil Scott speaks during a press conference in early April updating the public on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MONTPELIER — In his Friday press conference, Gov. Phil Scott announced that all Vermonters aged 16, 17 and 18 would be eligible over the weekend to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine, with signups beginning at 10 a.m. Remaining Vermonters age 16 and older would be eligible beginning Monday.

“This step will help give those kids the opportunity to register for Pfizer doses two days early, which is their only option at this time,” Scott said. “And possibly enjoy the school year in a much more normal way.”

The FDA requires that the 16- and 17-year-olds only receive the Pfizer vaccine, and are not eligible for the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Monday, April 19 at 6 a.m., eligibility opens for all Vermonters aged 16 and older to receive their COVID-19 vaccine, and the governor also signed another one-month extension to the state of emergency in Vermont.

On Thursday, Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine met with the CDC to discuss the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the use of which was paused earlier in the week due to reported blood clotting issues in six patients. Scott said he remained hopeful that they would be able to resume distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and said he would learn more next week.

Because of the way the administration has planned phased vaccinations, Vermont ranks in the top five states for rate of administration, Scott said.

“We have just surpassed 50% of Vermonters age 16 and older having received their first dose of vaccine,” Levine said. “Fully, one-third of adults are fully vaccinated.”

“We were the first state to get to 90% of those most vulnerable, those 65 and over with at least one dose,” Scott said.

Scott urged Vermonters to get their vaccines as soon as they were able, and said he anticipated a glorious and opened-up summer.

Education Secretary Dan French said 570 school staff had been tested, which was about one-third of the number they normally test because it was a school vacation period, but no cases of COVID-19 were identified.

Ten to twenty new case reports are being discovered in schools each day, and while the trend in case counts has plateaued, they fluctuate on a daily basis, French said.

85% of the schools in the state responded to an in-person or remote learning survey, which revealed that in March and February, about 55% of the students were in a hybrid learning model, 33% were in person, and the remainder were remote.

The Department for Children and Families and the Agency of Education are collaborating to produce a temporary food benefit for all pre-K to 12th grade students who would normally receive free or reduced meals, called Pandemic EBT, which will be based on a student’s learning models each month.

The benefit provides almost $120 per student for a remote learning month, and almost $72 for a hybrid learning month, and no benefits for an in-person learning month, and provides a benefit card to eligible households to use for food at participating grocery stores, convenience stores, online online retailers and farmer’s markets too.

“These benefits are meant to replace the value of school meals that children would have received while they were at school,” French said.

French encouraged families to use both the card and the free meals being provided by school systems, and around $14.7 million will be issued to 21,844 Vermont homes and families from September 2020 through February 2021, covering around 33,000 students.

All eligible households will receive their benefit by April 29, and another benefit will be issued in July to cover March through June of 2021, French said.

All Johnson & Johnson vaccine appointments have officially been cancelled through April 23, and Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Mike Smith said the department is working hard to open as many additional appointments for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as possible.

Some Johnson & Johnson clinics would be available after April 23, Smith said, and though future appointments have not been cancelled for the J&J vaccine, new appointments are not currently being scheduled.

Levine stressed that the rare blood clot associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had not been found associated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and said the pause was to research identification, diagnoses and treatments for the disorder.

“If it’s been more than a month since you’ve been vaccinated, you’ve most likely passed the critical time,” Levine said of the disorder.

Currently scheduled appointments at pharmacies can be rescheduled through the pharmacy in question, and Levine said that at this point variants of the original COVID-19 have been found in 10 of Vermont’s 14 counties.

The majority of the cases are the B117 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, which is fast becoming the dominant strain in the country.

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