MONTPELIER — State officials say about a third of the 70-plus group signed up for the novel coronavirus vaccine within hours of eligibility opening Tuesday.
Gov. Phil Scott said he’s been told the state’s vaccine allotment will again be increased and a third vaccine may soon be available.
The state is currently in its third phase for vaccinations, after vaccinating health care workers, first responders, residents living in long-term care facilities and residents aged 75 years and older.
At the governor’s regular news conference, Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, said more than 11,000 people had signed up for an appointment over the course of about three hours once scheduling started at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday. The state has estimated there are around 33,000 Vermonters aged 70 to 74.
Smith again asked residents to sign up online at healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine instead of by phone at (855) 722-7878, if possible. The state Department of Health announced there had been a large number of calls from people trying to get a vaccine appointment, which was causing delays.
Smith said the average wait time on the phone was about five minutes and the longest wait was about 25 minutes.
Despite an overnight snowstorm, Smith said all but one vaccination site would be open Tuesday. He said the site at Champlain Valley Expo run by the University of Vermont Medical Center had to be rescheduled to Saturday.
“However, if you feel uncomfortable due to road conditions in your area you can reschedule,” he said.
Smith said he expects to move through the 70 to 74 group “fairly quickly” before moving to residents who are aged 65 to 69 and then to those with high-risk health conditions. He said more details will be coming “in the near future.”
The governor wasn’t in attendance at the start of his news conference because he was on a call with other governors and the Biden administration about the pandemic response. Scott said the weekly vaccine allocation will increase nationally from 11 million to 13.5 million. He said that’s about 2,500 more doses for Vermont.
Scott said pharmacies and federally qualified health centers which receive vaccine doses straight from the federal government will see their allotment double nationally from the 1 million initially announced, to 2 million doses.
He said federal officials have warned the weather could affect some vaccine shipments.
“They’re working hard to de-ice planes as we speak and to make sure distribution is on track. But they said to be prepared, there might be some cancellations or at least some postponements of some of the vaccines into different states. I don’t know how that will affect us, but stay tuned,” he said.
The governor said Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is expected to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA by the end of the month. If approved, he said the company will start distribution immediately and has said it will provide 100 million doses by the end of June.
The vaccines currently available from Pfizer and Moderna require two shots, weeks apart, for maximum efficacy. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one shot. While it’s not as effective as the other vaccines at preventing illness from the virus, with studies showing it’s about 66% effective overall compared to 95% for Pfizer and Moderna, Scott said it is about 95% effective at preventing severe illness and death.