BY MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
The state of Vermont, facing criticism for ignoring placing sites in Grand Isle County for residents to obtain COVID-19 vaccine shots, said Thursday afternoon that it is working with local school and health officials in the Champlain Islands to develop some possible places to provide the vaccinations.
In an email to The Islander, Health Department Communications Officer Ben Truman said three possible Points of Distribution (POD) sites have been identified. They are: the Alburgh Community Education Center, and the North Hero and Grand Isle Elementary Schools.
Truman said in the email that creation of the sites in Grand Isle County will require sufficient vaccines being allocated to Vermont. He said to start the Grand Isle County clinics "is linked to having enough vaccine from the federal allocation."
It was unclear why the vaccines currently allocated to Grand Isle County residents being sent to 3 sites in Franklin County or 7 sites in Chittenden County could not be re-directed locally.
The state's response comes after inquiries by The Islander both with the Health Department and with Human Services Secretary Mike Smith at Gov. Phil Scott's news conference on Wednesday on why the Champlain Islands were ignored. The other 13 Vermont counties all had at least two sites, including rural Essex County.
The Islander noted that plenty of schools, churches, meeting halls and the training room at the Grand Isle County Sheriff's Department had enough space and many have hosted blood drives for the American Red Cross.
Smith, a part-time Grand Isle County resident, pledged he would investigate the issue. And about 27 hours there was a response and action plan by the state.
Truman said the investigation of Grand Isle County sites will be done after the state conducts its first vaccination distribution spots in St. Albans.
"At that time, we may find that some sites will work better than others for accessibility and social distancing, but so far we have no reason to think they wouldn’t meet our needs," Truman said.
He said the state also has been in communication with Grand Isle Supervisory Union (GISU) and the schools.
"Our Emergency Preparedness Specialist has also been answering questions from the schools about POD preparedness," he wrote in the email.
There also have been discussions with the Champlain Islands Community Health Clinic in South Hero about possible options to bring the vaccine to the region, the state said.
The state also has been in discussions with Northern Tier Community Health (NOTCH) -- the Federally Qualified Health Center for Franklin County. NOTCH's service territory extends to Alburgh and Isle La Motte, Truman said.
"If given additional allocations of the vaccine for northern Grand Isle, they likely could stand up a clinic fairly quickly," he said.
During the summer, NOTCH started a circuit of mobile COVID testing in five communities in Franklin county and Alburgh. During the fall NOTCH also used its circuit model to offer flu clinics in those communities.
The Vermont Health Department's Office in St. Albans has staff working to create two clinics in the Railroad City and will shift as needed to support the Islands, Truman stated.