State officials announced extra vaccination appointments were being added over the next 7 days in select locations around the state, including the NEK, during the state’s Tuesday media briefing on the coronavirus.
Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith announced the effort and encouraged people with later appointments to call the state’s vaccination hotline to take advantage of an earlier appointment.
“Our goal is to make it easier for Vermonters to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Smith. “For the next seven days we are adding additional vaccine appointments in St. Albans, Essex Jct., St. Johnsbury, Winooski, Hardwick, Randolph. Rutland, and Bellows Falls.”
This was one of several announcements the state made Tuesday. State officials indicated the next age band of 65-69 would open up for appointments on Monday morning. Members of the next phase were encouraged to create accounts on the health department website now to ease the appointment process when eligibility opens up Monday at 8:15 a.m.
State officials expect the next phase, which has roughly 42,000 people in it, will take 3 weeks or less, as the state is now expecting to get about 14,500 doses per week going forward.
Besides vaccine appointments available through the Health Department, Kinney Drugs continues to take appointments and Walgreens is expected to begin taking appointments this week for those who are eligible by the age-banding process.
Gov. Phil Scott also announced new guidance for people who have been completely vaccinated for at least 2 weeks. Last week Scott indicated vaccinated people could travel and return, or visit the state without the need to quarantine. Tuesday he announced that vaccinated people could gather with an unvaccinated household now as well.
DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak delivered the state’s data modeling and projections, indicating the major indicators were all favorable and trending in the right direction, including fewer new cases and hospitalizations. Pieciak noted that a recent blip of cases in Essex County also had subsided, along with a rise of cases in Rutland and Bennington. Franklin County remained high, though.
Projections for the next six weeks have also begun to drop according to the state’s modeling, and show an anticipated drop in new cases through the remaining winter and early spring. Pieciak cautioned, though, that the arrival of more transmissible variants in the coronavirus could alter the projections.
As with the rest of the state, new cases have dropped in the Northeast Kingdom, with fewer than 5 cases per day for 4 days in a row. The three-county total is now at 976 cases, with 406 in Caledonia, 410 in Orleans and 160 in Essex. The 7-day average of daily new cases is now the lowest it has been since early November.
Laural Ruggles, VP of Marketing and Community Health Improvement at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, said a recent additional allocation of doses to the partnership NVRH has with Northern Counties Health Care has allowed the group to open its St. Johnsbury clinic earlier than anticipated. The partners expected to hold their first St. Johnsbury clinic on March 7, but they will now be able to administer 150 doses on March 1. The partners will use the same space at the Green Mountain Mall that the Health Department has been using for their weekly clinics.
Ruggles said the clinics they have held around the Northeast Kingdom so far have been nearly or completely booked, including sites in Concord, Island Pond, Canaan and Barton. In addition, two clinics this week in Hardwick that had started slowly in bookings are now full as well.
Monoclonal Antibody Treatment
Ruggles also highlighted the progress NVRH has made with its monoclonal antibody clinic, which has been operating since December to help treat COVID.
Dr. Mike Rousse, Chief Medical Officer at NVRH, said since its inception the clinic had administered 44 infusions of the COVID-19 treatment. Rousse said anecdotally they believe the treatment is being successful and they are encouraged and excited to offer it. Rousse said of the 44 people who received the treatment, which is restricted to those with a certain level of symptoms, age, and or pre-existing condition, only 1 person sought additional treatment at the hospital and ended up with a favorable outcome.
“We are pretty excited about it,” said Rousse. “Other than supportive care there isn’t anything we can offer. … The monoclonal antibody is a therapeutic proven to reduce hospitalizations.”
Rousse said there has been a decent buy-in to the treatment from area primary care providers and referrals have come from a wide section of the Northeast Kingdom. He looks forward to its continued operation.