What happened to America's biggest pandemic success story?

Vermont has also maintained its most important advantage over other states by limiting the most severe outcomes of COVID-19 infection. Deaths have increased, but Vermont’s fatality rate remains quite low compared with that of some other states experiencing a spike, such as Michigan; for stretches of several months this year and last, hardly anyone in Vermont died from COVID-19. To the extent that hospitals are strained, Levine said, it’s because of an increase in other illnesses and conditions caused by delayed care over the past two years. “It’s not COVID that’s driving our hospital stress, though certainly COVID could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Levine said.

Government officials have even put an optimistic spin on the state’s recent struggles. Vermonters, Levine said, are “victims of our own success.” So many people got vaccinated so quickly that their immunity is beginning to wane earlier than people’s in other states, Levine said, a dynamic that could be exacerbated by Vermont’s disproportionately older population. And because relatively few people contracted COVID-19 at other stages of the pandemic, the state has much less natural immunity than other places. Seroprevalence studies found that just 3 to 4 percent of Vermont’s population had COVID-19 antibodies prior to the arrival of the Delta variant; by comparison, similar studies indicate that more than 25 percent of the populace had antibodies at one time in New York City, which was hard hit by the virus in spring 2020.