Posted on April 2, 2021

Vermonters of Color to Be Eligible for COVID Vaccine Starting Thursday

Erin Petenko, VTDigger, March 30, 2021

Vermonters 16 and over who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color — along with members of their household — will be able to register for the Covid-19 vaccine starting Thursday, officials announced at a Tuesday press conference.

The state also expanded eligibility to parents of children with severe medical conditions. They become eligible to register for the vaccine on Wednesday, March 31.

These eligibility categories are on top of the state’s current age-based vaccine eligibility system, which is currently open to Vermonters 50 and older.


All Vermonters 16 and older are expected to be able to register for the vaccine by April 19. {snip}

Levine said the increased vaccine access for Vermonters of color was warranted by two disparities: the higher case rate among people of color and the lower vaccination rate.

Black Vermonters have had the highest rate of Covid, according to the Department of Health, with 741 cases per 10,000 people, compared to white Vermonters’ rate of 247 per 10,000 people. Asian people, Hispanic people and those of other races also have a higher Covid case rate than white Vermonters.

There’s also evidence that people of color have a higher hospitalization rate in Vermont. Across the country, people of color have died at much higher rates than white people, both due to their higher case rates and their higher rate of preexisting chronic health conditions.


Despite that case disparity, Vermonters of color have consistently had lower vaccination rates than white people, even after Vermont opened vaccine eligibility to all household members of older Vermonters of color and started several partnerships with community groups to increase awareness.

About 30% of white Vermonters have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 13.6% of Black Vermonters. Every nonwhite racial group has a lower vaccination rate than white Vermonters.

The disparity is present, but reduced, when accounting for age: People of color over 65 have a vaccination rate of 65%, compared to 76% of white Vermonters over 65. Some experts have argued the state’s age-banding system is a disadvantage to Vermonters of color, who tend to contract the disease and have worse outcomes at a lower age.

Advocates and policymakers have pointed to several other reasons for the lower vaccination rate, such as lack of information for limited-English-speaking Vermonters, vaccine reluctance, and difficulty using the registration system and going to vaccine clinics by themselves.

Vermonters of color will have to self-certify their status as a member of that community, Levine said.


Sen. Kesha Ram, D-Chittenden, said she is grateful that the state is taking this step, because it “reduces confusion for already overburdened communities.”

“BIPOC Vermonters stand out and don’t want to be accused of cutting the line, so they are trying to follow the rules and guidance, and it’s not easy,” Ram said in a written message.

She said she hopes the BIPOC policy will extend to incarcerated Vermonters, as well. “I applaud Dr. Levine and Gov. (Phil) Scott, while also hoping they will have a change of heart for incarcerated people,” as Black Vermonters are imprisoned at a higher rate than white people.

Mark Hughes, executive director of the Racial Justice Alliance, said people of color have waited “far too long” for this decision.

“The impact of the delay weighs immeasurably on the BIPOC community in Vermont, and can only be viewed as one of the leading indicators of the racist policy of this administration,” he said via email.


The state has stuck with age-band eligibility for incarcerated Vermonters but announced Tuesday that all inmates should get at least their first dose of a Covid vaccine by April 19, and that all should have second doses by May 13. However, inmates who identify as BIPOC can register Wednesday, March 31.