By Jim Hyde, Contributor

Are we there yet? Has there ever been a road trip when that question wasn’t asked? Well, Dr. Anthony Fauci believes “we are at the corner. Whether or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen.” The Director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, went a step further saying, “Right now I’m scared.” I have a sense of “impending doom.” These words are in stark contrast to the growing pressures on policymakers to open things up and put this COVID thing behind us.

Vermont has seemingly avoided the worst effects that have plagued other states with similar demographics. We are the beneficiaries of an accident of geography, a culture of shared purpose, and solid public health and political leadership. But ominous warning signs are everywhere.

When can Vermonters Sign Up for COVID vaccineInfection rates first plateaued and now are rising rapidly again, especially among young adults 20–40 years old. Testing rates are also declining, suggesting that people’s vigilance and sense of urgency is waning. Most ominously, new variants of coronavirus are now circulating in Vermont as elsewhere. While an estimated 45% of Vermont’s population may have some degree of immunity to the original virus, either through natural infection or vaccination, more than half of our population is still at risk. This provides rich opportunities for new variants to proliferate.

There are currently at least five variants in wide circulation in the U.S., three of them already in Vermont. These are of special interest either because they are more easily transmitted or because they appear to lead to more serious illness. In short, both here in Vermont and globally we are in a race against time. While we know that mask wearing, distancing, and hand and face hygiene can reduce infection rates, these behaviors do not confer immunity.

It’s the miracle of our time that in a single year we have been able to sequence the coronavirus, develop, test, and manufacture several vaccines, all of which have proven effective at preventing infection, reducing serious disease, and preventing premature death. But it’s vaccinations not vaccines that will get us through this pandemic. Behavior change will buy us some time, but ultimately, it’s an effective vaccination program that will deliver us.

Unlike so many other global threats that we face, for example global warming or population growth, there are things we as individuals can do now about COVID that will have an immediate and measurable impact on our lives. We can continue to practice mitigation efforts and make sure that everyone who is medically and otherwise eligible is vaccinated.

This is why the Charlotte Community Partnership (CCP) is organizing: VaxHelp Charlotte. The goal is to vaccinate every eligible Charlotte resident by July 4.

The CCP was organized in April 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic. The purpose was to assess what was working, what was needed, and how best to support one another during the pandemic. Initial participants included: the Library, Senior Center, Grange, Charlotte Congregational Church, Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, Fire and Rescue, and the Food Shelf. A result of the partnership is the ongoing community resilience assessment (see Trina Bianchi’s column). The VaxHelp campaign is a direct outgrowth of the resilience project.

While roughly 40 percent of us have already received at least one dose of an approved vaccine, there are still many who have not. Age eligibility, used in the early roll out phase, will no longer be a factor as of April 19 when all Vermont residents over 16 years old will be eligible. (So far the FDA has not approved any vaccine for use by those under 16 years of age.) Cost is not a factor as all of the vaccines are free. It is also not necessary to have health insurance.

This still leaves barriers for some which VaxHelp Charlotte plans to address:

  1. Lack of internet or a computer access. The Charlotte Public Library will provide an accessible laptop on their porch so people can use the Vermont Department of Health’s online portal. If you are unfamiliar with the internet or have difficulty using a computer, a VaxHelp volunteer can help you navigate the scheduling site.
  2. Difficulty hearing or understanding phone encounters. Among the choices that Vermonters have for scheduling a vaccine appointment is a phone access portal. Many people have difficulty navigating phone trees and understanding responses on the phone. VaxHelp Charlotte can put you in touch with a local volunteer who will help you with phone access.
  3. Questions about the vaccines. There is a tremendous amount of valuable information available on the COVID vaccines on the Vermont Department of Health website. Sometimes it can appear overwhelming. VaxHelp Charlotte can put you in touch with a local volunteer who can help you with questions you may have but for which you have been unable to find answers. Importantly, however, volunteers cannot provide you with medical advice—only your health care provider can do that.
  4. Transportation and logistics. Once an appointment is made, some people may need help with driving or obtaining transportation. VaxHelp Charlotte can help you find a local neighbor volunteer willing to provide you with transportation to and from your appointment.

You can access any of these services by sending an email or by phone at (802) 425-3864 (The Charlotte Library). Someone from VaxHelp Charlotte will then be in touch with you.

All indications are that there will be plenty of vaccine available to meet all of Vermonters’ demands. The goal of VaxHelp Charlotte is to make sure that no barriers get in the way of delivery of these vaccines to every eligible Charlotter. If you want to help in this effort, talk to family members, friends and neighbors. Ask if they need or would like help signing up for a vaccine appointment.

Are we there yet? No. Not until we are all vaccinated. It starts locally, but ultimately must be a global effort. While we’re heading there, don’t forget to wear a mask, distance and practice those good hygiene behaviors. Whatever you do: Don’t miss your shot, Charlotte!