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UVMMC Administered The First COVID-19 Vaccination In Vermont. Some Answers About What Comes Next

A person in a yellow suit holding a box of bottles
Morry Gash
Associated Press
Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan on Sunday, Dec. 13.

The University of Vermont Medical Center administered the first COVID-19 vaccination in the state over a video livestream on Tuesday, Dec. 15. So what comes next? Scroll down for some frequently asked questions (and answers).

Watch below as Cindy Wamsganz, an emergency department nurse at UVM Medical Center, receives Vermont's first-ever COVID vaccine. It was administered by Claire Langevin, UVMMC’s employee health lead nurse.

COVID-19 vaccine FAQs

Updated 4:20 p.m. 2/4/2021 (This page will no longer be updated. For the latest FAQs about the COVID-19 vaccine, head here).

What is the first COVID-19 vaccine?

On Friday, Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to prevent the COVID-19 disease in people 16 years old and older.

Clinical data showed the vaccine to be 95% effective for both individuals who hadn’t been infected by the coronavirus and those who had.

How does the vaccine work?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a mRNA vaccine, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, works like this:

“[They] contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech is administered in two doses, three weeks apart. The vaccine’s efficacy in clinical trials was measured seven days after the second dose.

The FDA says side effects from the vaccine were typically reported after the second dose, and included pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said in a press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 15 that there’s insufficient information to know how long a vaccinated person is protected from COVID-19.

He also noted there is more to learn about its safety and effectiveness for children under 16 and for pregnant people, and that anyone who is pregnant should have a conversation with their provider before receiving the vaccine.

Who gets the vaccine first?

On Dec. 15, state officials said the first groups of people to receive COVID-19 vaccinations would be high-risk health care workers who have contact with patients, and long-term care facility residents. Those workers will be notified directly about receiving their dose.

Vermont received its first 1,950 vaccine doses on Monday, Dec. 14, another 1,950 on Tuesday, Dec. 15 and 1,950 more by the end of that week. These doses were distributed to hospitals and to long-term care facilities through three pharmacies contracting with the federal government: CVS, Walgreens and Kinney Drugs.

The state was scheduled to receive 5,850 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine per week through the end of December. Health officials also told Vermont Edition on Tuesday, Dec. 15 that the state has pre-ordered vaccine doses from Moderna — 11,400 for the next week, and 5,000 at the end of December — which NPR reports is 94% effective and has a “favorable safety profile” in an FDA analysis released Tuesday.

The FDA authorized the Moderna vaccine for emergency use on Dec. 18.

Levine indicated on Dec. 15 that Vermont expected to have received 34,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020, and that all of Vermont’s health care workers and long-term care residents, a group numbering between 50,000 and 60,000 total, would likely be vaccinated by the end of January.

On Dec. 31, however, state officials said the federal government had delayed the shipments of vaccines. By of Jan. 5, Vermont had only received 30,000 doses,about 1,000 fewer per week than expected according to Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Mike Smith.

On Jan. 19, officials said vaccine supply continued to be lower than expected.

More from VPR: With COVID-19 Vaccines On The Horizon, Vermont Prepares To Distribute Shots

Who will get the vaccine next?

State officials said on Jan. 5 and then clarified on Jan. 8that the next people to receive the vaccine would first be frontline workers and individuals aged 75 and older, then those 70 and older, then 65 and older, followed by people in a younger age range who have higher-risk conditions.

On Jan. 15, officials said announced that Vermonters 75 or older will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine beginning on Jan. 27. State officials say it’ll take about six weeks to vaccinate that population. Once that is done, people 70 and older will be able to get the shot, and then 65 and up.

Beginning on Jan. 25, eligible residents can make vaccine appointments online or by calling a special number, though the online method is preferable. According to Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith, clinics will be held around the state, and EMTs will help get the vaccine to homebound Vermonters.

Gov. Phil Scott and other officials have repeatedly emphasized preventing death as their top priority.

"With such a limited supply, and an unpredictable supply of vaccine coming to us, we're prioritizing those most likely to die if they contract COVID-19," Scott said on Jan. 19.

Levine noted on Dec. 15 that it will likely be several months, perhaps into early spring, before the vaccine is widely available, and Vermonters will know when it is time to receive their dose through communications from the Health Department as well as local health care providers and pharmacies.

“We’ll also collaborate with community organizations and other partners to make sure that people who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, including Black, Indigenous and people of color, have equitable access to the vaccine,” Levine said.

He added that undocumented residents and people experiencing homelessess are included in the state’s prioritized “vulnerable” population.

Levine said the state is not currently taking a list of names, and he discouraged people from calling their primary care providers about getting the vaccine. People without primary care providers or health insurance will be able to receive a free vaccination from state health offices.

On Jan. 7, Gov. Phil Scott said 120,000 Vermonters could be vaccinated by the spring.

Is the vaccine mandated?

There is no requirement from the state or federal government to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and state health officials told Vermont Edition that employers cannot require vaccination until the manufacturers apply for and receive full approval from the FDA.

How many people will need to be vaccinated for the COVID-19 pandemic to be over?

According to Levine, Vermont will experience what he termed “community immunity” once 75% of the population has been vaccinated. Levine noted that the December 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows a similar percentage of the public, 71%, indicating willingness to be vaccinated.

Asked about those who didn’t want the vaccine, Gov. Scott said transparency would be important for building public confidence.

“We’ll continue to show how many of the vaccinations were given, the percentage of acceptance, and if there’s any problems along the way, we’ll highlight those and give reasons for that when we can,” Scott said.

In the meantime, state officials stressed it’s important for Vermonters to continue following safety guidelines even if they’ve been vaccinated — wearing masks, keeping social distance — until health officials can determine whether community spread has decreased enough to lift restrictions.

Vermont's COVID-19 vaccine timeline

Jan. 25

Vermonters 75 and older can now sign up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. The Department of Health is asking state residents to visit If Vermonters can't get online or need to speak to someone in a language other than English, beginning at noon today they can call  855-722-7878.

The phone line will be open Monday-Friday 8:15 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Jan. 15

Officials announced Vermonters 75 and older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Jan. 27.

Jan. 5

Vermont has received 30,000 doses of vaccine so far, and state officials also announced that they decided who would receive inoculations next:frontline workers, older Vermonters, and those with high-risk conditions.

Dec. 31

State officialssaid the federal government has delayed shipping COVID-19 vaccines. While Vermont expected to receive 11,000 doses, it's instead gotten 7,800.

The last day of the year also marked the day the first veterans received vaccinations at the White River Junction VA.

Dec. 21

The first long-term care facility residents and staff received COVID-19 vaccinations.

Dec. 15

Another 1,950 Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived, and the University of Vermont Medical Center administered the state’s first COVID-19 vaccine.

Dec. 14

Vermont receives first 1,950 Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine doses, 975 to University of Vermont Medical Center, 975 to Vermont’s State Vaccine Depot for distribution to the state’s hospitals.

Correction 6:40 p.m. 12/22/2020: This post has been updated with the correct pharmacies distributing COVID-19 vaccine to long-term care facilities.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or tweet digital producer Elodie Reed@elodie_reed.

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Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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