A Vermont nonprofit wants the state to reboot its mobile vaccine program
A Vermont nonprofit that’s won a temporary grant to provide COVID-19 vaccines to homebound Vermonters is calling on the Department of Health to reboot its mobile vaccine program, but state officials say they no longer have the federal funds needed to support the initiative.
When the Department of Health earlier this year discontinued its mobile vaccine program for homebound Vermonters, and people who are too immunocompromised to enter a pharmacy or doctor’s office, the phones started ringing at the Vermont Center for Independent Living.
Kate Larose, VCIL’s pandemic equity coordinator, told Vermont Public this week that there was no apparent alternative for people who couldn’t leave their houses to get the booster.
“We realized that we needed to move really quickly because nobody else was providing this needed critical access to vaccination for folks, so we did,” Larose said.
The disability rights organization secured a $1 million grant from the federal Administration for Community Living. Larose said the money will allow VCIL, through a contractor called CDR Health, to provide COVID-19 and flu vaccines to an estimated 800 households. She said the RSV vaccine will also be available in some instances.
We realized that we needed to move really quickly because nobody else was providing this needed critical access to vaccination for folks, so we did.Kate Larose, VCIL’s pandemic equity coordinator
VCIL will likely exhaust the grant money in 60 to 90 days, however, and the organization is calling on the state to bring back, and make permanent, the mobile vaccine program it discontinued in May.
“We are hoping this will be a stopgap while our state Agency of Human Services, Department for Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, and Vermont Department of Health find tenable solutions that will be enduring to make sure that people with disabilities don’t continue to be forgotten moving forward,” Larose said.
According to officials at the Department of Health, no such initiative is forthcoming.
“The funding and resources mobilized as part of the state and national pandemic response allowed the Health Department to step in to support the health care system during a public health emergency,” the department said in a written statement to Vermont Public. “Now that the emergency is over, and with it the end of the federal pandemic funding and resources, the ways in which people in Vermont receive care, including vaccinations, are returning to the pre-pandemic systems.”
During the height of the pandemic, the state used federal funding to hire local emergency response agencies to administer the mobile vaccine program. Those resources began to dissipate when President Joe Biden declared an end to the federal COVID-19 emergency in April.
“We do not have the funds or the staffing to run a vaccination program for homebound individuals,” the department said. “Patients should receive vaccines from the provider(s) they receive their medical care.”
Now that the emergency is over, and with it the end of the federal pandemic funding and resources, the ways in which people in Vermont receive care, including vaccinations, are returning to the pre-pandemic systems.Vermont Department of Health
Larose said at-home vaccine service isn’t available from many of the providers on whom Vermonters with disabilities rely for medical care. And she said the end of the state-run mobile vaccine initiative exacerbates inequities for Vermonters who are already at higher risk of severe sickness or death from COVID-19.
“The most vulnerable Vermonters have felt just completely forgotten and forsaken by public health and by our medical system,” she said.
VCIL will distribute the vaccines through both at-home visits and drive through clinics in communities across the state. She said the service is free of charge and recipients won’t have to provide any insurance information.
People interested in scheduling a home visit, or going to a community clinic, can register by going to www.vcil.org/vaccines, or by calling 802-830-4137.
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