Vermont, known for Bernie Sanders, maple syrup, and the birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, now has a new claim to fame: it is the most-vaccinated state in the country against Covid-19.
The US’s second-least populated state, home to red farmhouses and moose warning signs, recently became the first to partially vaccinate 80 percent of eligible residents.
“It probably makes us the safest place in the country, if not the world,” says health commissioner Mark Levine, who has a bobblehead of top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci on his desk.
The rural, northeastern state has given at least one vaccine dose to 82 percent of residents aged 12 and up, far exceeding the national rate of 64 percent in the United States. Its vaccination rate is more than double that of Mississippi, the state with the lowest vaccination rate.
Officials and residents attribute Vermont’s success to widespread vaccine clinics, trust in political leaders and science, and residents’ strong sense of community responsibility.
“And, building on that, Vermonters are very cooperative and compliant,” he adds, citing a New England tradition of town meetings and “civic engagement” in places like Maine and Massachusetts, where vaccine rates are also high.
Vermont, which has a 94 percent white population and one of the highest levels of education in the country, has only recorded about 250 Covid-19 deaths. More than 605,000 people have died as a result of Covid in the United States as a whole.
After lifting the state’s mask mandate in May, Vermont’s moderate Republican Governor Phil Scott lifted all remaining restrictions when the state reached the 80 percent mark last month.
Evan David Warner, a busker on Burlington’s main Church Street, agrees that Vermont’s small population of only 640,000 people was critical to life returning to normal.
“Vermonters believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to keep one another safe. It’s a moral code for society “Between songs, the 23-year-old guitarist says. Vermont’s dispersed population and mountainous terrain, popular with hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter, made it difficult for vaccinators to reach everyone.
Pop-up clinics were set up on farms, lakeside beaches, state parks, and racetracks to help reach people in rural areas, including migrant farm workers, as shots slowed at main sites.
“We realized we had to go out to them,” nurse Ellen Monger says as she waits for walk-ins at a farmer’s market in Northfield, a town of 6,000 people. “Sometimes that means driving on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere to someone’s house where they’re housebound.”
“As a nurse, I’ve literally been to places I never expected to go,” she says, as locals stock up on organic teas, jarred pickles, and freshly picked strawberries.
The National Guard administers the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine to Vermont Creamery employees fifteen miles (24 kilometers) away in Websterville.
The company collaborated with the soldiers to increase the vaccination rate of its employees, which was around 55% at the time.
“We’re just trying to remove any barriers,” marketing director Kate Paine explains, noting that the company was offering free tacos as an added incentive. Work hours, remote homes, and childcare responsibilities have made it difficult for some employees to get immunized.
“It was the ease of convenience,” says Jason Stride, a 30-year-old fresh cheese supervisor, explaining why he got vaccinated at work.
Back in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, the high vaccination rate is welcomed by residents and businesses. Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, points out that the state hasn’t provided significant incentives for vaccinations.
There are no lotteries like in other states, only the odd soft-serve ice cream known locally as “creamees.” He believes “apathy,” not vaccine hesitancy, is driving the holdouts.
But he’s determined to get shots in their arms, particularly with anxiety surrounding virus mutations such as the Delta variant.