By Guy Page
White House Covid-19 advisor Anthony Fauci is a big admirer of Vermont’s vaccination program and predicts that staying with the aggressive vaccination program will turn around Vermont’s rising number of cases and hospitalizations, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.
Levine said he recently spoke with Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Levine praised Fauci as “someone whose pragmatic, science based approach to CoVid we should all admire.”
Levine said Fauci spoke glowingly of the state’s strategy of boosters for seniors, easy access for all eligible Vermonters, and “hopefully” vaccination for children ages 5-11.
“All of these things should help turn things around for our state,” Levine summarized Fauci as saying.
Fauci has come under fire recently by GOP members of Congress following news that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had funded gain-of-function research on the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, a charge denied by Fauci. He also is being criticized for allowing experiments in which beagles were strapped to tables and their heads continuously exposed to swarms of biting sand flies.
90.4% of eligible Vermonters (ages 12 and over) have received their first shot, and 80% are fully vaccinated. Yet the hospitalization rate of fully-vaccinated Vermonters increased three percent last week, while the rate for unvaccinated hospitalizations decreased 19%, according to Vermont Health Department (VHD) statistics released today. However, non-vaccinated Vermonters still fill 2.6 times more hospital beds than the fully vaccinated, the VHD said.
Nationally, hospitalizations have decreased 9.3%, according to the VHD stats shared today at Gov. Phil Scott’s press conference. Covid cases, .4% nationally, are up 19% in Vermont despite the state’s high vaccination rate. As has been the practice in recent weeks, the VHD did not publish any week-by-week death statistics.
To date, 369 Vermonters (0.9% of total cases) have died of Covid-19, all but 38 of them 60 years or older, and none under the age of 20. Perhaps with parental protectiveness, skepticism, and the zero fatality rate among Vermont children in mind, Levine and pediatrician Rebecca Bell made a strong pitch for parents to vaccinate children ages 5-11 beginning this month.
Levine praised K-12 vaccination because it will give “more freedom for Vermont kids to be kids,” seeing family, going to school, Levine said. He, Gov. Scott and other administration officials repeated that a major benefit of K-12 vaccination will be keeping schools open and reducing quarantines. Parents and teachers report that Vermont schools are stressed by frequent quarantines of students in response to state policies.
In addition to reducing lost school days under current school policies, Levine and pediatrician Rebecca Bell made the following claims about the benefits of vaccination of children 5-11:
- The vaccine is safe. Trials show the dosage (a third of the adult dose) is safe, with no serious adverse effects among the 4,600 participants, Bell said.
- Vaccination should reduce the likelihood of “long Covid,” persistent symptoms following Covid-19 infection among 4-5% of positive cases among youth.
- Vaccination doesn’t change how the body works, but does prepare children for possible infection, Bell said: “This is why pediatrians love vaccination. It doesn’t change anything about how the body works. It’s like parenting: we can’t shield them from everything, but we can prepare them.”
- Contrary to some public opinion, vaccinating young children isn’t just about protecting older people. Research studies show that although risk of illness among youth is less than adults, it’s still present. “The benefits for this age group are clear, even without public health benefits,” Bell said. Bell said her own pre-teen will be vaccinated soon.