Health Care

Vermont’s Covid levels ‘low’ but state’s booster progress is falling behind

Note: This story is more than a week old. Given how quickly the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving, we recommend that you read our latest coverage here.

Vermont’s Covid-19 levels remained “low” in the past week, according to the state Department of Health, even as the nation continues to face a surge driven by the BA.5 subvariant.

In its latest weekly surveillance report, the health department reported 493 Covid cases in the past week, about the same as the week before. But Covid-related hospital admissions and the share of hospital beds taken up by Covid patients ticked up this week, even while both remained within the “low” category.

There were 49 new admissions for Covid in the past week, up from 33 the week before, according to health department reports. About 2.7% of beds statewide were taken up by Covid patients, which other data sources from the department show include about three to six intensive care patients at any one time.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported last week that most of Vermont’s 14 counties had “low” Covid levels, with only Rutland and Bennington counties reporting “medium” Covid levels.

The CDC and health department Covid levels are determined by the recent case rate, hospital admissions, and beds occupied by Covid patients. The CDC recommends that high-risk people in medium-level counties take steps to protect themselves from the virus, including wearing masks in public.

Vermont has the lowest Covid case rate and the lowest hospitalization rate in the nation, according to New York Times data. Southern states such as Kentucky have the highest rates at this time.
While Vermont’s case data is most likely an undercount, since the state relies on PCR tests for its data reporting, the rest of the country is affected by that issue, too. Vermont has a PCR test positivity rate of 8%, compared to a national average of 19%, according to The Times — suggesting that the national case count is not representative of the full picture of Covid.

Vermont has not reported a new Covid death in nearly two weeks, according to the health department. In total, 693 people have died of Covid in Vermont since the beginning of the pandemic, including nine so far in July. 

The number of Covid deaths is based on death certificates that list Covid as a cause or probable cause of death, according to the health department. Because of the time it takes to investigate deaths and prepare death certificates, deaths can sometimes be added retroactively, raising the total for previous weeks and months.

Vaccine updates

Only 37% of Vermonters 5 and older are up-to-date on their vaccinations, the health department reported Wednesday, using updated benchmarks.

The state’s apparent vaccination rate dropped in the latest health department dashboard update, but that’s not because people became unvaccinated. Rather, the department updated its data to reflect the latest booster recommendations from the CDC.

The CDC recommends that everyone over age 17 receive at least one booster dose of the vaccine, and everyone 50 and older should receive a second booster dose, according to the health department website. Children 5 and older who received the Pfizer vaccine should receive a booster dose as well.

The department’s old definition, which did not include second boosters or boosters for children, said 59% of those 5 and older were up-to-date.

The booster rate for 5- to 11-year-olds was particularly low: Only 13% of children in that age group have received their recommended vaccine doses, including boosters, the health department reported. People ages 50 to 59 also had a large gap between their initial completion rate of 83% and their booster rate of 16%.

The health department has not yet added children under 5 to its vaccine dashboard. The department told VTDigger last week that 13% of children in that age group had started the vaccination process as of late July.

Vermont has scaled back its state-run vaccine clinics this summer, but walk-in clinics are still listed on the health department website. Doctor’s offices and pharmacies also offer Covid vaccines.

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Erin Petenko

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