In rural Vermont, vaccine participation is some of the highest in the nation

Vermont vaccination
Posted at 1:25 PM, Apr 28, 2021

During any other year, late spring snow would typically be the only thing slowing business in the small town of Woodstock, Vermont.

But for all the beauty that abounds in this idyllic part of the Northeast, there's still been no escaping the pandemic.

"We really rely on tourism here," said Barbara Leonard, a lifelong Vermont resident who works in a small children's toy shop in downtown Woodstock.

"It’s heartbreaking for me to work a children’s store and have grandparents say they are buying toys for children who were born during the pandemic and who they haven’t met yet," she added.

As the nation slowly emerges from the pandemic, the Green Mountain State is leading the nation when it comes to vaccination rates among adults age 65 and older.

Like the bridges that dot Vermont’s countryside, state Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan wants every resident covered by the vaccine.

"Because we have limited supply, we’ve had to make really hard decisions about who goes first," Dolan said.

New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota are among the states with the most vaccinated people, while Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama have some of the lowest vaccination rates.

Although Vermont typically sits around 15th on the list, a staggering 92 percent of adults over the age of 70 have been vaccinated.

The state has some of the highest vaccine participation rates in the country.

"It means people will be safer. People will be protected from this virus," Commissioner Dolan added.

So, what’s driving those incredibly high vaccination rates?

Richard Watts, a professor at the University of Vermont who heads the Center for Research on Vermont, says a lot of it has to do with social engagement. There are 251 villages and towns in Vermont, each with its own form of local government. That high amount of civic engagement is translating into higher vaccination numbers.

"We have the highest percent of people serving in office of any state in the country," Watts said.

From the beginning of the pandemic, Vermont has had clear, consistent messaging from officials, and it's bipartisan in nature. The state, historically known for its liberal-leaning politics, currently has a Republican governor.

"Our government has shown itself to be trustworthy and it’s bipartisan in a way that’s not comprehensive in this country," Watts added.

Rural states like Vermont that are excelling in the race to vaccinate have often taken a strong hand in organizing local efforts. It’s something Woodstock Municipal Manager Bill Kerbin has seen work.

"We have a special place here, and that’s what is going to keep it safe," he said.

In this quintessential corner of New England, they want their vaccination campaign to be as memorable as the landscape here.