Advisory group recommends expanding pool for Phase 1b vaccination plan

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont is being advised to include state residents over age 65 and people with certain underlying health risks of all ages in the next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The additions proposed Tuesday will almost double the eligibility pool for the upcoming Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination distribution program to nearly 1.6 million people and extend its duration.

The allocation subcommittee of the Governor’s COVID-19 Advisory Group also recommended a rolling vaccination schedule that assigns priority to the essential workers and vulnerable populations in Phase 1b based on levels of risk for infection and death.

The subcommittee’s actions Tuesday came as the daily positive test for COVID-19 jumped to 10.7%, the highest mark in the second outbreak that started surging in October.

State health officials reported 3,689 new cases out of 34,422 test results. There now have been 217,047 cases and more than 4.7 million diagnostic tests done since last March. There was a net increase of 12 patients hospitalized with cases of COVID-19 for a total of 1,154 statewide. The 31 new virus-related deaths pushed the overall state number to 6,449.

Locally, there have been 2,186 cases in Naugatuck since March, an increase of 35 from Monday, according to state figures released Tuesday. There have been 545 cases in Prospect and 340 in Beacon Falls, increases of five and six, respectively, since Monday.

State health officials reported no new coronavirus-associated deaths in the Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Prospect since Monday. There have been 72 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, five in Beacon Falls and one in Prospect since last March, according to state data.

THE ALLOCATION SUBCOMMITTEE previously prioritized state residents age 75 and older for vaccination in this second round, and eight categories of essential workers, including teachers and school staff, first responders not included in Phase 1a, and manufacturing workers.

Also, the panel agreed last week that staff and residents of congregate settings, including prisons, homeless shelters and group homes, should be included in Phase 1b.

The earlier recommendations created a vaccination pool of approximately 850,000 people. Subcommittee members estimated the new groups proposed Tuesday could add more than 700,000 to the Phase 1b population. The state’s population is 3.5 million.

The expanded Phase 1b roster includes an estimated 353,000 seniors aged 65 to 74. State health officials have put the number of elderly over age 75 at 276,000.

The subcommittee also recommended adding another estimated 362,000 state residents age 16 and older with one or more medical conditions that the CDC determines put them at a greater risk of severe illness. The CDC has identified such 11 health risks, including chronic kidney disease, Down syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart conditions, Sickle Cell disease, pregnancy and immunocompromised conditions.

Subcommittee members said the CDC guidance is expected to evolve with the science so the list of qualifying conditions will be subject to change as the vaccination program moves forward.

State health officials initially estimated a Phase 1b timetable of nine to 10 weeks based on its original estimate.

Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, reminded subcommittee members at the outset Tuesday that adding more groups will stretch out Phase 1b. No updated timeline was provided to the panel.

“When you see some of these additions, you’ll realize this is a very large group,” she said, adding she supports the recommendation to adopt a tiered schedule for Phase 1b.

Gifford also stressed that much depends on the supply of vaccines. At this time, state officials are expecting to receive 50,000 doses a week from the federal government.

There was some concern raised Tuesday about managing public expectations.

“I just don’t want to give too many people false hope that the vaccine is going to be there for them tomorrow or next week,” said Raymond Sullivan, director of health for Brookfield Health Department. “I am afraid that supply will not meet the demand.”

Vaccination rates among Phase 1b groups also will affect the pace of distribution. The working assumption is 60% participation.

Vaccines are now being administered to direct care providers and other critical workers in health care settings, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders at risk of exposure. Phase 1a is expected to be completed in February.

Meanwhile, Phase 1b is expected to start within the next two weeks.

Lamont announced Monday seniors age 75 and older will be able to start registering for vaccination appointments next week. Advanced registration for some will begin Thursday.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.