MONTPELIER — More than 17,000 Vermonters have received their first shot of the vaccine for the novel coronavirus, while the state’s death toll continues to rise.
The state announced 165 new cases of the virus Tuesday and five additional deaths, bringing the death toll to 149.
At his regular news conference, Gov. Phil Scott said, “Every day we’re seeing more Vermonters lost to this virus. When I get the report early each morning, and I see two, four, five deaths listed, I feel a responsibility squarely on my shoulders. And I take each one of them personally.”
The governor noted over the summer and fall the death toll was stagnant, without a death from the virus reported for months. But from Nov. 1 to Tuesday, the death toll has nearly tripled from 58 deaths to 149.
State officials have said their goal now is to save lives and with the vast majority of deaths in Vermont coming from those who are older, those are the ones the state is looking to vaccinate first, as well as health care workers who come into contact with them.
Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said 17,653 residents have received their first shot of the vaccine. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, weeks apart, for maximum efficacy. He said this week some residents will receive their second shot.
Levine said nearly half of the state’s EMS workforce has been vaccinated, as well as a quarter of health care workers. He said pharmacies continue to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities through a contract with the federal government.
Once health care workers and those at long-term care facilities have been vaccinated, Levine said the state will vaccinate residents based on age. He said those at the front of the line for the next phase include anyone 75 years old and older, then those aged 65 to 74 and then those with high-risk health conditions.
Levine said officials still are working on what conditions will fall under high-risk, but they likely will include heart disease, emphysema, chronic kidney disease, cancer and those with suppressed immune systems such as organ donors.
“More details will follow at a later press conference as we do not expect we’ll get to this group until later this month, at the earliest, and of course depending upon the federal allocation of the vaccine to Vermont,” the commissioner said.
Last week, state officials reported the federal government had, for a second time, reduced the amount of vaccine doses Vermont officials were expecting.
Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, said Tuesday the state this week received 3,900 doses of each vaccine. Smith said the state has been told it will receive about 4,800 doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines next week, which is about 2,000 total doses fewer than what state officials want.
In response to a question about his confidence in the federal government’s ability to supply vaccine to Vermont, the governor said, “Confidence will come in time with follow through. So if we’re promised something and they follow through, and they consistently do this over time, then we’ll have more confidence.”
Scott said he didn’t expect any interruption in vaccine shipments when Joe Biden is sworn in as president Jan. 20 and a new administration takes over.