By Guy Page
Health Commissioner Mark Levine and Gov. Phil Scott both said Tuesday they don’t know whether any Americans have died due to a reaction to the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
Vermont Daily Chronicle asked at today’s press conference: “The CDC website seems silent on this subject – have there been any vaccine reaction deaths to the Pfizer vaccine, either in Vermont or the U.S.?
“I’m not aware of any in Vermont,” Scott said. “I’m not aware of the U.S.”
Levine echoed Scott: “I’m not aware of any in Vermont, and I’m hesitant to speak to the whole country.”
It’s an important question as Vermont ponders requiring an annual Covid-19 vaccine, as discussed at Tuesday’s press conference. The CDC website says the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) reports 12,122 ‘preliminary reports of death’ due to vaccine reaction. It also adds this disclaimer: “Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.” Although saying “CDC and FDA clinicians review reports of death to VAERS including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records,” it offers no results of its investigations.
Gov. Scott began his weekly pandemic press briefing by quickly saying everything continues to go well on the pandemic front. He then promptly pivoted to an unrelated subject: his plan to spend federal money to connect all Vermonters to the internet and cell phone service.
This week’s case numbers bear out his optimism about Covid-19 illness right now:
Cases have decreased 41% over the last 7 days, and decreased 65% over the last 14 days. Vermont COVID-19 cases are expected to continue to decline in the coming weeks, consistent with improving case trends in Vermont, the Northeast and the U.S.
Declines in Covid deaths are expected over the next four weeks.
New hospital admissions have decreased 14% over the past week.
ICU beds used for Covid are down 17% over the past week.
The Health Dept. again listed no specific death or hospitalization totals among Vermont’s unvaccinated, but (again) compared them unfavorably to results among the more vaccinated. It also cited national data that case rates among unvaccinated adults were 5x higher compared to those with a booster.
“We haven’t reported under 400 cases since mid-December, that puts us back to pre-Omicron levels,” Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said. “Those declines are real.” Even longterm care homes are seeing lower case numbers, he said.
School mask decision due Feb. 28 – The Vermont Agency of Education will update its direction on mandatory school masking on Feb. 28. “If these numbers continue, we will….look at the numbers and decide the path forward,” Scott said.
However, Scott – never a strong believer in mask mandates – left no doubt how he’s leaning. He told a story about a little Vermont girl who has ”never been to school without a mask on. She told her mother, ‘you know, Mom, I don’t mind wearing the mask, but I don’t know what my friends look like.’ And I thought, ‘how sad is that, they’ve been to school for two years and they don’t know what their classmates look like.’”
Noting the state’s high school vaccination numbers, Scott said, “We are more prepared than any state in the union to make this move.”
Going forward, Scott added that he believes a regular vaccination against Covid-19 will be likely.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine was asked by VPR reporter Colin Flanders if the slowing vaccination rate complicates plans for Vermont’s transition to post-pandemic life. “There is only so much arm-twisting one can do,” Levine said. Vermont’s success is due to access. Many states don’t actively help citizens get vaccinated, but “we have remained involved,” he said.
“I can’t say that the state with the best booster rate” would see anything “interfere with our going forward,” Levine said.
Levine was asked whether annual Covid-19 vaccination will be required of all school children. “That would be the question on the table,” he said. “At the present I don’t feel it’s something we need to think about, today.” Vermont needs to see how the vaccines perform, and what students need, he said.
The CDC is allowing states to pre-order emergency use authorized vaccines for children as young as six months, should they become necessary, Levine added.
Voluntary “assurance” testing for school staff – Due to high school vaccination rates, “our schools have reached more stability in their operations,” French said. The agency is developing a voluntary “assurance testing program” for school staff, offering them two antigen tests per week.Prop 5 passage comment – Asked by a reporter for his opinion on today’s House passage of Prop 5, the constitutional amendment to allow unrestricted abortion, Scott signaled his approval. “I’ve been supportive of that,” Scott said. It now goes to the voters, he said.
Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.