Vermont ranks second in the nation in the pace of receiving and administering COVID-19 vaccines per 100,000 people, Human Services Agency Secretary Mike Smith said Friday.

As of Thursday night, 21,000 Vermonters had been vaccinated, he said during the state's biweekly briefing on the coronavirus.

“However we need to keep accelerating our pace of vaccinations, even as supplies remain uneven and often disappointing,” Smith said.

The state has now included about 4,500 first responders — such as police and firefighters — among the first group to receive the vaccine, he said.

“Primarily because we discovered that often these Vermonters are responding to accident scenes and 911 medical calls. They are administering aid or helping to get individuals ready for transport even before EMS arrives. They are directly involved in patient care,” he said.

The next group to be vaccinated will be Vermonters aged 75 and older, followed by 70 and up and then 65 and older. The three groups make up 125,000 people and it will likely take until the spring to vaccinate them with the current allocation of doses, Smith said.

The primary objective in age grouping is to save lives, he said. Most of the COVID-19 deaths happen in those age 65 and older. Of the state's 156 deaths, only 10 have been in people under aged 65, he said.

On Friday, Vermont reported 202 new cases of the coronavirus, followed by 214 new cases on Thursday, indicating that the holidays is having some impact on the rise in cases, said Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. But it's too soon to see any effect from New Year's Eve gatherings, he said.

Christmas weekend services at a church in Addison County have led to 80 cases, he said. The Health Department's contract tracing teams have identified six gatherings over the holidays that have the potential for further spread, he said, including multiple families gathering together and a large birthday party. At ski resorts, early information shows nine cases in people who were at ski areas and most of them are employees, Levine said.

The state is also watching for any impact from Vermonters returning from “the tragically violent event in Washington this week," he said.

Those who traveled out of state need to quarantine and get tested, for their safety and the safety of their families, Vermonters and their communities, Levine said.

The state reported one more death on Friday, for a total of 156 since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 90.29 new cases per day on Dec. 24 to 141.57 new cases per day on Jan. 7.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 1.67% on Dec. 24 to 2.92% on Jan. 7. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Vermont the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

In other news related to the coronavirus from Vermont:



Five staff members at four Vermont prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 and a sixth at another correctional facility is presumed to be positive, the Vermont Department of Corrections said Friday.

No inmates are currently positive, the Corrections Department said.

The state prisons in Newport, South Burlington and Swanton each have one staff member who tested positive, and Springfield has two infected staff. The facilities are in modified lockdown. The test result is pending for an employee at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland, which is in full lockdown, officials said.

People who have been in close contact with the infected staff have been identified and are quarantining, the Corrections Department said.

A total of 37 Vermont Corrections Department staff members have tested positive since March of 2020, the department said.



More than 280 volunteers have been enrolled in a phase 3 trial of another vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19, the University of Vermont Medical Center said Friday.

UVM has enrolled the volunteers to help study the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Some of the volunteers will receive the vaccine while others will receive a placebo.

Nearly two-thirds of those enrolled are over age 65. Additionally, more than 12% of participants identify as black, indigenous or persons of color.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved for use in the United States, but it has been approved for use in the United Kingdom and Brazil.

Data from the trial UVM is participating in is hoped to be ready for review by the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks or months.