High school students will get be able to register for COVID-19 vaccines earlier than other residents under 30, state officials announced on Friday, in a last-minute switch intended to allow more in-person graduation ceremonies.
Vermonters ages 16 to 18 may register for vaccines on 10 a.m. Saturday, two days earlier than others in the previously designated 16 to 29 age group. Older members of the group can register beginning at 6 a.m. on Monday.
Gov. Phil Scott said the head start came out of "empathy" for high school students who have had a difficult year. He also noted that the students might otherwise have trouble scheduling timely appointments because the Pfizer vaccine is the only one of three currently approved for people ages 16 and 17.
"We just thought it was the right thing to do," Scott said.
The move comes at the same time state officials have rebuffed similar requests for slightly earlier access from restaurant workers and employers.
Scott emphasized the number of teens moving to the front of the line under his plan is small, though officials could not immediately provide a figure. He characterized it as a "sacrifice" he believed many would be willing to make in order for high school seniors to have a traditional graduation.
The state considered a concerted vaccination program for high schoolers that would have enabled more in-person classes before the semester ends but concluded it wasn't practical, Scott said at one of his twice-weekly press conferences. Only 8 percent of high school students were receiving fully in-person instruction at the end of March, Education Secretary Dan French said.
The Agency of Education has not yet issued guidelines for high school graduation ceremonies, but French said he was optimistic that in-person events would take place.
New COVID-19 infections in Vermont remain at elevated, stable rates due primarily to the prevalence of more transmissible viral strains, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said. Cases continue to be most frequent among people ages 20 to 29, state data show. A little more than half of Vermonters have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
By Monday morning, any Vermont resident will be eligible to receive a vaccine. Vermont is one of the last states to open registration to all because of its age-based approach. The final group of eligible residents is the largest chunk, with more than 117,000 people.
Teens who are 16 or 17 years old will need a parent or guardian to complete an online consent checkbox before they can schedule an appointment.