Backlash follows change in vaccination plan

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont remained resolute that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will now be based on age amid a growing backlash Tuesday from his last-minute change of plan.

A final group of essential workers and people with pre-existing medical conditions were told by the governor last Thursday that they would learn Monday when the state vaccination program would open up to them.

Instead, Lamont abruptly changed course over the weekend, and tens of thousands of anxious state residents found out Monday they must wait until their age group’s turn comes between March 1 and May 3.

Lamont insisted Tuesday there will be no special accommodations in the newly revised vaccination schedule other than the dedicated vaccination clinics for school and child care workers he announced Monday.

“Once you start making exceptions, it starts to get really complicated,” he said.

Lamont said vaccinations of state residents ages 55 to 64 will start next week, and then the new timetable assumes another age group will be added every three weeks.

He said he concluded, after consulting with his pandemic response team over the weekend, that the previous plan was unworkable because lists of essential workers and possible health risks represented close to 1 million people.

He said the addition of one group of essential workers prompted appeals to be added from others left off the list. Vaccination providers also questioned how they could confirm the identity of essential workers.

Lamont said it was much the same with pre-existing conditions. State officials faced untenable choices between lists of health conditions the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention determined increase the risks of severe illness and death from COVID-19, or just might increase those risks.

“I will tell you everybody has an advocacy group, and they have been knocking on our door for weeks,” Lamont said.

Grocery store workers were among the essential workers slated to be vaccinated in the next phase. UFCW Local 371 President Ronald Petronella said hundreds of his union’s members working in supermarkets across the state have contracted COVID-19, and nearly a dozen new cases are reported every week.

Only school staff and professional child care providers will be allowed to get their shots in March at dedicated clinics set up for them throughout the month. No dates have been announced yet.

Lamont said the two groups of essential workers are getting priority because keeping schools and child care centers open is vital to education and the economy.

State Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, expressed reservations Tuesday about the new age-based approach during a review of Lamont’s budget recommendations for the state Department of Public Health.

She told acting DPH Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford she is concerned people with pre-existing conditions are no longer being prioritized, including those prevalent in minority communities such as sickle cell disease and spina bifida.

“I was a little upset because those are diseases that hit the minority community more than anything,” said Walker, one of the highest ranking African-Americans and women in the legislature.

“So, I hope we can have an understanding on how we choose to go to age. I know Massachusetts is doing that — they’re planning to do it, too, but I hope states don’t do that until we get a better a handle on vaccines for our minority communities because they are front-line workers also,” she continued.

Gifford sought to assure Walker that the Lamont administration is working to respond to concerns about racial and ethnic minority groups that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“We understand them and welcome the opportunity to have further conversations,” she said.

Gifford said DPH is working on scheduling a COVID-19 vaccine briefing for the full legislature for Friday.

In other developments in the state outbreak, state health officials reported increases in infections, hospitalizations and deaths on Tuesday.

The daily positive test rate climbed back up to nearly 4%. There were 1,357 new cases of COVID-19 out of 34,656 new test results reported Monday. There now have been 276,691 cases since early last March.

DPH officials reported a net increase of 11 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 511 statewide.

There were 10 additional coronavirus-associated deaths reported. This bought the death toll to 7,572.

The state reported there have been 2,722 cases in Naugatuck, 684 in Prospect and 436 in Beacon Falls since last March. There have been 87 coronavirus-related deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and three in Prospect.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.