MONTPELIER — State officials say 39 towns will have a vaccine site for those 75 years old and older starting next week.

At his regular Friday news conference, Gov. Phil Scott said the state will start phase two of the rollout for the novel coronavirus vaccine on Monday. The state so far has vaccinated health care workers, emergency responders, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. In an effort to keep people from dying, state officials said the next priority would be older Vermonters who don’t live in long-term care facilities. The vast majority of the deaths from the virus in the state have reportedly been residents 65 years old or older.

“The science is very clear. The older you are, the more likely you are to die if you get COVID. With our limited supply of vaccines, in my world, we have a moral obligation to prioritize saving lives,” Scott said.

The governor cited the limited supply of vaccine the state is receiving, about 8,800 doses per week, as the reason why the state is focusing solely on older residents. He said if the state starts getting more doses, it can quickly ramp up and start broadening who gets a shot.

Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, said next week only those 75 years old or older are eligible for the vaccine. Smith said it’ll take about 5 weeks to vaccinate all those residents, of which there are around 49,000. The state will then vaccinate around 33,000 Vermonters aged 70 to 74, and then around 42,000 residents who are aged 64 to 69. The state is hoping to get through the older residents by the beginning of spring. After that, the state will vaccinate anyone 18 years old or older who has a high-risk health condition such as emphysema or heart disease.

Smith said residents can sign up online or via phone. He said the website and the number will be announced Monday.

According to the Department of Health’s website, 39 towns — including Barre, Montpelier, Waterbury, Rutland and Castleton — will host 54 vaccine sites.

Smith stressed those that sign up for a vaccine appointment need to keep that appointment. He said cancellations and disruptions to schedules could cause delays for others to get the vaccine and cause vaccine doses to spoil.

“We’re working on plans now to reduce the chances of spoilage, but we need your help to be successful,” he said.

The twice-weekly news conferences have typically been held in-person in Montpelier, though media organizations have been strongly urged to call in and only a small number of people attend. But Friday’s conference was completely remote because a contractor at Tuesday’s conference and last Friday’s conference ended up testing positive for the virus Tuesday. So the governor, Smith, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and others in attendance have been isolating. Scott said he and the other members of his cabinet have tested negative and he’s scheduled to be tested again Tuesday, seven days after the exposure. If that test also comes back negative, the governor can stop isolating.

Despite this incident, Scott, who is 62 years old, said his thoughts haven’t changed about when he gets the vaccine. He said he is anxious to get the shot, but he didn’t want to potentially take it away from someone in need.

“From my standpoint, I’m going to wait until it’s my turn. If I had my druthers, I would have everyone vaccinated before I had. I’d be the final vaccine shot into a Vermonter’s arm if I could,” he said.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

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