The question on almost everyone’s mind right now is “When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?” Many people have been calling, e-mailing, texting, and even stopping us on the street or in the grocery store to ask this. We understand that your level of frustration may be mounting as days and weeks go by with no update, and we ask for your patience as the state of Vermont continues to develop its plan for the next phase of distribution.
We’re in frequent contact with state officials who are still working out what the details of this plan will be, based on the number and timing of doses they receive; Governor Phil Scott said in a press conference today that more details will be forthcoming this Friday. The good news is that Vermont is ranked among the top states for efficiency of distribution of the vaccine, but we know that this doesn’t help you or your family, friends, and neighbors if you haven’t yet received it and are wondering when your turn will come.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the state of Vermont require that healthcare workers, patients in long-term care facilities, and Emergency Medical Service personnel be vaccinated first; this is called Phase 1A of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Phase 1A is still in progress throughout the state – we began administering first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on December 13, and we are continuing with this process, administering first doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and then second doses of Pfizer/BioNTech 21 days after the first dose, and Moderna 28 days later. We plan to be finished with Phase 1A by the end of January or early February. The state of Vermont has recently added police officers, firefighters, and ski patrollers to Phase 1A, so we are giving first doses of Moderna to 110 people in this group today.
Since my last Message to the Community on December 15, 2020, there has been one important change to Vermont’s distribution plan that we need to convey. I outlined the CDC’s plan for vaccine distribution at that time: Phase IB included essential workers in education, food, agriculture, utilities, transportation, and prisons, and Phase IC was adults 65 years and older, and adults younger than 65 with high-risk medical conditions. SINCE THEN, VERMONT HAS RELEASED A PLAN THAT DIFFERS IN SOME DETAILS. The state Department of Health and Governor Phil Scott have decided to implement a distribution plan called “age banding.” This proposed “age banding” will begin with adults age 75 and older, then moving to adults 70 and older, and so on. At some point, younger individuals with certain high-risk medical conditions will start being vaccinated. The state of Vermont’s plan for these groups is not finalized yet; details are pending. Governor Scott has indicated that Vermont may begin with age 75+ even though the CDC is recommending 65+ because of the large number of people in these age brackets in the state.
The best advice I can give to you is to make it part of your daily routine to check the Center for Disease Control’s website and your own state’s Department of Health website for the latest updates on the progress of COVID-19 vaccinations. For answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, read the recent Brattleboro Reformer article written by our Chief Medical Officer, George Terwilliger, MD. To access the Vermont Department of Health’s website, click here. If you live in the Grace Cottage service area and are wondering when you can get your vaccine, check the COVID-19 Information page on our website for frequent updates.
The current holdup, statewide, is vaccine supply, but we are confident that the amount of vaccine will increase significantly within a few weeks. We are optimistic that, at that time, Vermont’s Department of Health will implement distribution at large capacity vaccination sites. Hospitals will extend their vaccination sites and health centers and many pharmacies will also join the effort. Here at Grace Cottage, I have been incredibly impressed with the way that our employees have efficiently and effectively organized and implemented our vaccination clinics set up for the 1A group. The first dose of the vaccine in Windham County was administered at Grace Cottage, as reported by the Brattleboro Reformer, and a photograph of one of the first vaccines administered here was in The Washington Post. We’ve vaccinated a large number of people and side effects from both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been minimal, ranging from a sore arm to chills, fatigue, and muscle ache. As has been widely reported, side effects from the second dose seem to be a bit more noticeablebut brief in duration.
The most important thing I can say (in addition to urging you to watch the news and pertinent websites for information about when and where you can get the vaccine) is that even after you receive the vaccine, you must remain vigilant. There are too many unknowns about if and how long vaccine recipients can continue to carry and transmit the virus. Until most of us are vaccinated and the threat has passed, we need to continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and avoid large gatherings.
In other COVID-19 news, we’ve recently completed our new drive-up testing site behind the Community Wellness Center/Heins Building and are providing PCR tests to anyone and everyone who calls to schedule an appointment, Monday-Friday. Call 802-365-4331 to schedule a test (Note that we are not currently making vaccination appointments. We’ll let you know, via our website, when it’s time to call to schedule your vaccination). We have tested thousands of people and have only had 40 positive tests since March, but it is a concern that fully half of these positive tests have occurred since Thanksgiving.
You’ve heard the saying, “It’s always darkest before dawn.” With the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths in our country, we are in the darkest days, but dawn is on the horizon, and it’s coming soon. Meanwhile, with the current coronavirus case count and the civil unrest in our country, many people feel discouraged, depressed, and hopeless. Please do all that you can to maintain your physical, emotional, and mental health. Get outside to walk or snowshoe, try yoga or mindfulness, escape with a good book or movie, perform acts of kindness for yourself and for others, and talk with family and friends on the phone. Try to stay positive and Vermont Strong – we’re almost there!
Hoping you are staying well and safe, and don’t forget to check www.gracecottage.org for the latest updates on vaccine distribution. As soon as we know more, you’ll know more,
Doug DiVello, President & CEO
Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital