State leaders hopeful goal can be reached this week.

By Polly Mikula

As of Tuesday, June 8, 79.4% of the eligible population in Vermont has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, leaving just 3,139 to go before the state hits its goal of 80%. At that point all remaining “emergency order” restrictions will be dropped.

“There’s still dozens of free walking opportunities available every day across the state (to get a vaccine),” said Gov. Phil Scott at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “It’s never been easier to get your vaccination, so please help us get to 80% as fast as possible.”

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Mike Pieciak said the rate of new vaccinations has fallen the past two weeks following Memorial Day weekend. The state had been averaging around 2,500 vaccinations per day in mid-May, but that dropped off to an average of 1,000-1,500 per day since. Last Wednesday and Thursday, June 2-3, only 482 and 348 vaccinations were administered, respectively — the lowest daily totals yet. But on Saturday, June 5, vaccinations “rebounded nicely” to 1,760, Pieciak noted.

At the current rate, the state anticipates it will reach its 80% goal later this week, but is cautious in its optimism.

“We still need those who are resistant in some respects to dig a little bit deeper, to go to their friends, their neighbors, their family and get them to get their vaccinations so we can reach it sooner. We’re just 3,129 people away from accomplishing that,” Scott said.

“We’re now at the stage where instead of mass vaccination sites with hundreds of doses being administered each day we’re relying on pop-ups with a handful at a time, and that’s OK,” Scott added. “We’re going to keep pushing because every single dose could save a life. Every vaccination counts… We need to keep this up, keep pushing and keep leading the nation.”

When asked at the press conference Tuesday, June 8, if the state’s threshold of 80% was “arbitrary,” and “scientifically insignificant,” especially since the state’s parallel goal of 70% of the total population vaccinated has been reached, Scott responded: “The 70% goal is arbitrary as well, right?”

“From my standpoint there’s a difference between 70% and 80% — obviously the more work we do right now the better off we’re going to be now and in the fall and in the winter,” Scott said. “If we can hit the 80% it will be a goal, a milestone that we can all be proud of. In fact, it will designate us as maybe the only state to have hit that or will hit that — which in itself would be, I think, an attraction to many whether for tourism or for people to come and move here. Being the safest, healthiest state in the nation is something that we we could utilize.”

Scott reiterated that if the state couldn’t hit the 80% goal, it would open up and remove all restrictions by the Fourth of July, regardless.

“We all need goals in life and this was one that I thought was attainable, which I still believe it is. If we reach it when I think we will, we’ll be more than two weeks ahead of schedule.

“I think this 80% goal has been advantageous,” he continued. “It made us work a little harder … there’s a difference between being average, being good, being OK, and being great and I think that we have a lot to be proud of in that respect.”

VERMONT LEADS NATION

Vermont continues to lead the nation as the safest state in the country from the risks of Covid-19, in large part due to having the nation’s top vaccination rates, Pieciak noted.

According to the CDC, Vermont now is No. 1 is all of its top five categories: Doses administered per 100,000 residents, percent of eligible population with at least one dose (79.4%), percent of total population with at least one dose (70.1%), percent fully vaccinated (57.5%), and doses administered to those age 65-plus per 100,000 residents.

“We are inching forward toward our goal of 80%,” said Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services. Noting that while 79.4% of all eligible Vermonters have been vaccinated, the rate was even higher for residents age 18-plus (the metric that the White House is using to measure progress toward its July 4th goal of over 70% vaccinated). “We’re way past that right now. We’re at 82.9% of that White House goal,” he said.

“Further we now estimate that the vaccine has saved 260 lives in Vermont more than the number of Covid-19 deaths that Vermont has experienced to date again highlighting the power of this life saving vaccine,” Pieciak said.

Thus far, Vermont has reported 256 deaths from Covid-19; in total 24,295 Vermonters have contracted the virus.

“We’re seeing these favorable trends even while mobility data shows that Vermonters are continuing to move around at pre-pandemic levels,” Pieciak added. “We also have our first glance at mobility data associated with Memorial Day weekend and the number of hotel visitors increased substantially this year compared to last —up 278%… This should certainly be an encouraging sign for the summer tourism season,” he said.