HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - A major shift in how Connecticut will carry out its COVID-19 vaccination efforts was announced on Monday, and the new plan put teachers at the front of the line.
Gov. Ned Lamont also announced that the state will continue with an age-based approach to expanding eligibility to the vaccine. He said that other previously considered scenarios proved overly complex and confusing, would potentially exacerbate inequities in vaccine distribution, and slow down the process of providing it to Connecticut residents.
Age is one of the strongest factors contributing to COVID-19 deaths, with 96 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Connecticut occurring in people over the age of 55, Lamont said.
Lamont announced a schedule for age-based eligibility for the next several months. Laying out a new timeline for eligibility for the vaccine, the strategy allows everyone in the state, including essential workers and those with chronic conditions, to know when they will be able to schedule an appointment. Here is the schedule:
- March 1, 2021: Expands to age group 55 to 64
- March 22, 2021: Expands to age group 45 to 54
- April 12, 2021: Expands to age group 35 to 44
- May 3, 2021: Expands to age group 16 to 34
To further ensure equitable allocation of the vaccine, Lamont also announced that he is directing the Connecticut Department of Public Health to set numerical targets and work with vaccine providers to ensure that vaccines are administered to people living in the highest-risk communities in proportion to their population. The governor said the targets and the associated strategies will be announced in the coming days.
In addition to the age-based eligibility, preK-12 school staff and teachers, and professional childcare providers will be eligible to receive the vaccine in March at dedicated clinics that will be set up specifically for those sectors. Educators and childcare professionals will soon receive information from their school administrators and employers on when their dedicated clinics will be provided.
"If getting a vaccine will help them feel more comfortable with being in the school buildings, I’m all for it," said April Smoke-Collins of Hamden.
Connecticut has been using a phased approach to its COVID-19 vaccine program because of the very limited supply of the vaccine that it has been receiving from the federal government. The program initially began in December with healthcare providers and medical first responders, and then expanded in January to include all individuals over the age of 75 and certain congregate settings, followed by those over the age of 65 in mid-February. All previously eligible individuals and settings will continue to be eligible after March 1.
“In a perfect world, we would have enough doses of the vaccine to get it to all 3.6 million people in Connecticut right now, however each state is being given a very limited supply, which is why we must take this phased approach,” Lamont said. “Connecticut’s healthcare providers have been doing an amazing job getting the vaccine to people as quickly as they can, and using age as the only qualifying factor is one of the reasons why they’ve had success so far. The last thing we want to do is complicate the process for them and cause delays that slow things down and exacerbate issues regarding equitable access. A vaccination program of this magnitude is unprecedented in recent times, and I appreciate everyone’s understanding of the fluid nature of this situation. My goal is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and I believe this is the best path to meeting that challenge.”
The rollout change does come with a bit of controversy because it will be reversing the order for some of the population. For example, a 20-year-old with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved pre-existing condition would have been next in line. A teenage grocery store worker would have been too. Now, people like Francesca Lafferty of Wilton find themselves at the bottom.
Monday was a personal milestone for Lafferty.
"[Monday] was the first time in almost a year that I went out in public," she said.
She has been battling neutropenia since 2019. It’s a condition where white blood cells, which fight infections, are critically low.
Lafferty called the new plan a punch in the gut.
"I felt prioritized and [Monday] it was just completely stripped away," she said.
Channel 3 asked the governor's team if exceptions would be made.
"Many of the chronic conditions on the CDC list are concentrated in the older age groups, so we’re catching the majority," said Connecticut acting public health commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford, who also serves as co-chair of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group. "As you point out, we understand that there are individuals with those chronic conditions who do want to get vaccinated and that’s why we’re focusing on speed."
Gifford said the state has been in a COVID-19 marathon for about year and the race became a sprint to beat the variants of COVID-19 that are now circulating in the state and elsewhere.
“The Department of Public Health is committed to an equitable vaccination program," she said. "Sticking with an age-based vaccine rollout allows our vaccine providers to get as many shots as possible as quickly and equitably as possible into the arms of Connecticut residents, and vaccinating our education and childcare workforce will get our children back in the classroom this school year.”
The state said the age-based system has worked well and there will be no exceptions.
According to the governor's office, there are 650,000 people in the 55 to 64 age group, 400,000 in the 45-54 group and 400,000 in the 35-44 age range.
There is an expectation that the doses will increase as time moves forward.
“Ensuring communities of color have access to vaccines is one of the most important and impactful ways we will get this pandemic behind us,” said Dr. Reginald Eadie, president & CEO of Trinity Health New England and co-chair of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group. “Using age as an eligibility criterion makes it clear to all of our residents, especially those who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, that the vaccine is here, it’s available, and provides for an easier registration process to actually receive the vaccine. Education is important when it comes to addressing vaccine hesitancy, but we must also have a simple process to make sure those who need the vaccine receive the vaccine. This new timeline not only informs residents of when they can anticipate they will be eligible to be vaccinated, but it also provides vaccinators direction on when and where to target their own outreach and education efforts.”
Connecticut Business and Industry Association president and CEO Chris DiPentima said that while essential employers had spent time and resources preparing for the vaccine rollout based on the initial guidance, he understood the need to pivot.
“We cannot rebuild our economy and recover from the pandemic without first addressing the public health crisis,” DiPentima said. “This new approach allows for more workers across Connecticut to get vaccinated in a short period of time, and it eliminates potentially complicated rules, making it easier and more equitable for everyone to receive their vaccination. It is critical that we vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”
All eligible individuals in Connecticut are required to make an appointment in advance of receiving the vaccine. Residents aged 55 to 64 should not attempt to make an appointment now. They will not be able to schedule one until the program expands to their age group on March 1.
To locate vaccination clinics, individuals should visit ct.gov/covidvaccine and enter their zip code. From there, users will be shown the nearest available clinics and provided with specific directions on how to make an appointment at each one, including over the internet and over the telephone.
Those who do not have access to the internet can call Connecticut’s Vaccine Appointment Assist Line at 877-918-2224. The line is open seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.