New Covid-19 vaccines are coming to Vermont

Mark Podgwaite of the Waterbury Ambulance Service assembles doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in Berlin in October 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vaccines that protect against new Covid-19 variants are arriving in Vermont, with shots possibly becoming available as early as this week, Vermont’s top health official said. 

The single-shot mRNA vaccine — available in two versions, by Moderna and Pfizer — is intended to provide protection against new strains of the coronavirus that have been circulating in recent months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the updated vaccines Tuesday. They are recommended for anyone age 6 months and older.

“It’s really being provided universally to people,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine. “No matter what your estimation of your risk is, what your age is or anything. It’s really for everyone.” 

Rather than Covid-19 boosters, Levine encouraged Vermonters to think of the vaccines as more akin to flu shots, offered annually to protect from an ever-mutating virus. 

The new shots were intended to protect against the XBB.1.5 variant of Covid-19, which made up most cases within Vermont and the Northeast for much of the year. Other variants are now gaining ground in the state. But Levine said those new variants are relatively closely related to XBB.1.5, meaning the new vaccine will provide protection against those newer forms as well. 

“The virus keeps mutating, as it will,” Levine said. “But these most recent mutations are all within that same family tree. And that’s why the vaccine will be as effective against them as it is against the original (variant).”

After the CDC’s approval of the shots Tuesday, the vaccines are being rolled out across the country. In Vermont, large pharmacies could begin administering the shots later this week, while smaller clinics and primary care facilities will likely receive them next week or later this month, Levine said.  

The shots are free of charge. Vermonters’ health insurance should cover the full cost, and the shots are also available for uninsured people through federally qualified health centers, pharmacies participating in the federal Bridge Program, or district health department offices

Covid-19 hospitalizations in Vermont are still low, but they have crept up over the past two months, following a national trend.

Vermont recorded 14 Covid-19 deaths in August, the highest number since April of this year. As of Sept. 13, four Vermonters had died of the virus this month. 

As fall approaches, Levine urged Vermonters to get the new shots and to follow common-sense strategies for reducing transmission: wash your hands, stay home when you’re sick, cough into your sleeve.

“First thing is, of course, the basics,” he said. 

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