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Reporter debrief: Scott administration says COVID vaccine for kids could roll out as early as Thursday or Friday

gloved hands holding a syringe
Hans Pennink
Associated Press
The Scott administration says it wants to get 60% of the 44,000 eligible 5- to 11-year-old Vermont kids vaccinated within the first eight weeks of the vaccine becoming available.

Gov. Phil Scott and members of his administration today — like most Tuesdays in recent months — held their weekly COVID-19 media briefing. Today, the focus was largely around when and how children ages 5 to 11 can get vaccinated against the virus. Federal regulators are close to approving a vaccine, and once they do, state officials say they plan to quickly rollout a multi-pronged plan to get shots in arms. It will involve state-run clinics, pharmacies and pediatricians.

VPR's Connor Cyrus spoke with Statehouse reporter Peter Hirschfeld about the big takeaways. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Connor Cyrus: The governor and his team are really pushing to get kids vaccinated. What was, or is, the administration's message?

Peter Hirschfeld: The message they most wanted to communicate today is that this vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds is safe, that it's effective, that your kid’s health is going to benefit by you getting them vaccinated. And also, that your kid is going to be far less likely to have to be quarantined from school if they do get that vaccine.

Dr. Rebecca Bell is the head of the Vermont Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She was sort of the keynote speaker today. She said the American Academy of Pediatrics “unequivocally” endorses this vaccine. She said, researchers have an enormous set of data showing that kids are less likely than adults to have side effects from this vaccine, like flu-like symptoms or injection site pain. She said there were also no extreme adverse effects in kids as a result of this vaccine, such as anaphylaxis. She said the data shows that it's incredibly effective in preventing disease in young kids.

And you know, while the severity of COVID in children is lower than it is in adults, there is still the chance, she said, for kids to suffer severe outcomes from COVID. And that parents should do everything they can to prevent that, namely by giving them this vaccine.

Whether or not parents in Vermont are going to respond to that messaging will be interesting to see.

There was a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that came out last week. It was national, not Vermont-specific, but it indicated that 27% of parents plan to get their 5- to 11-year-olds immunized as soon as possible. But there are 33%, who said they want to “wait and see” before they get their kids the shot and 30% of parents who say they will definitely not be getting their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated. So, we'll learn pretty quickly here in the next few weeks, as this vaccine rolls out, what the level of interest is going to be among parents here.

Speaking of rolling out the vaccine, we were told today that kids could be getting that Pfizer vaccine as early as Thursday or Friday. What do we know about how Vermont plans to roll out that vaccine to this age group of kids 5 to 11?

So, there are about 44,000 kids in Vermont that are in that 5- to 11-year-old age range. The Scott administration has set a goal of getting 60% of them vaccinated within the first eight weeks of the vaccine becoming available.

So how are they going to make it happen? Well, it's going to be a multi-pronged approach that will involve state-run clinics, pharmacies, and pediatricians.

Those state-run clinics are going to occur both in schools and in community hubs. We found out today that the state plans to launch 96 school-based clinics that will serve 112 schools over the next six weeks. The state is planning to concentrate those clinic resources in more rural parts of the state — areas where it might be otherwise difficult for parents to get their kids vaccinated because there just isn't much in the way of health care infrastructure. Pharmacies are going to play a role.

And then there's pediatricians. The initial vaccine rollout for adults didn't rely much on primary care providers at all, but the Scott administration thinks that a lot of parents are just going to feel more comfortable getting their kids the vaccine if it's coming from a pediatrician that they already know and trust.

Another topic that came up is the general assistance hotel voucher program. Did today's press conference give us any additional clarity as to where the governor is on this issue and next steps for people who are experiencing homelessness?

Well, I think for me, it sort of crystallized the difference in philosophy that the governor approaches this with. That’s [in opposition to] advocates that I'm talking to and hearing from, who say they're not seeing progress as they perceive it from the governor's office on this issue.

More from VPR: Vermont's emergency motel housing program extended until Dec. 31

And the question is: What are we — is the state — going to do with people who are unhoused, in the street or in encampments right now?

Advocates want to make emergency motel housing available to literally anyone who doesn't have a house right now. The Agency of Human Services says there just isn't enough capacity to do that.

But we heard the governor express more general opposition today to the concept of relying on motel beds to solve homelessness. The administration says it's going to be rolling out a cold weather housing program in the near future, that it hopes is going to ameliorate some of the concerns that advocates have. And we'll find out if that's the case when we get details on that.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Updated: November 2, 2021 at 5:20 PM EDT
This post has been updated to reflect the news that the CDC's vaccine advisory committee voted 14-0 to recommend the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 Tuesday afternoon.
The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
Connor Cyrus was co-host and senior producer of Vermont Edition from 2021-2023.
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