Health care workers, vulnerable populations first to receive vaccine

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — State planners anticipate vaccinating everyone in Connecticut who wants to get inoculated against COVID-19 will take into the fall of 2021.

Healthy people under age 65 will have to wait until June to get immunized under a contemplated vaccine distribution scheme that targets health care workers, other essential workers and the most susceptible populations to infection first.

Gov. Ned Lamont and Dr. Deirde S. Gifford, the acting director of public health, provided an update Thursday on the state’s planning for distributing coronavirus vaccines.

The most critical of health care workers on the COVID-19 battlefront are going to get the first doses of coronavirus vaccine in Connecticut, including medical staff caring for COVID-19 patients in emergency departments and intensive care units.

The first group will also include such vulnerable populations as residents of nursing homes.

Gifford, an epidemiologist, estimated the largest vaccination effort in state history is likely to take until late September or early October to complete, depending on the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and people’s willingness to get vaccinated.

“We’re hopeful by the early fall to have everybody who wants to be vaccinated to have received the vaccine, both doses,” she said.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that state officials expect to start receiving later this month require two doses.

Lamont reported the federal government is expected to provide the first 31,000 doses of the vaccine that Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE have developed on Dec. 14. He said delivery of the first 63,000 doses of the vaccine from Moderna Inc. is anticipated on Dec. 21.

THE DISTRIBUTION SCHEDULE outlined Thursday anticipates 204,000 health care workers, 22,000 residents of long-term care facilities and 6,000 medical first responders would be vaccinated in the first phase.

The expectation is that 380,000 initial doses and 212,000 second doses will be administered through the end of January.

“We’re talking a matter of weeks, not months, within the health care workforce of rolling this out,” said Gifford, co-leader of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group.

The distribution order is still being worked out for other essential workers in hospital and nursing home settings who are not providing medical care, said Dr. Reginald J. Eadie, the other co-leader of the advisory panel and president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England.

In hospitals, he said, one possibility is assigning priority based on the extent to which members of a department are exposed to COVID-19 patients.

The next round of vaccinations would take place from January through May for other essential workers outside of health care, other congregate settings such as state prisons, adults over age 65, and individuals under 65 with high health risks, according to the distribution schedule.

Lastly, youths under age 18 and the remaining people over 18 would start to get vaccinated in June. The final vaccinations are expected to wrap up over the following three to four months.

Gifford, Eadie and Lamont stressed the pace of distribution would depend on the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and individual choices to get vaccinated or not.

The estimates for the first group of critical health care workers, nursing home residents and medical first responders assumed an 80% participation rate in each category.

State officials have no estimates on the cost of administering the statewide vaccination program.

The federal government is paying for the vaccines and most of delivery costs, and vaccinators will be billing insurance companies, Gifford said.

She said the state is incurring some costs, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided $2.4 million to cover some of the expenses, and another $1.4 million is expected from the CDC.

THE INFECTION RATE continued to rise in the state’s second outbreak of the pandemic with 4,751 new cases of COVID-19 reported out of 66,645 tests received Wednesday.

Lamont said the daily positive test rate of 7.1% reported Thursday was the highest since the first infections were detected in early March. He said this might reflect a bump in testing in the lead-up to Thanksgiving.

There were 20 more coronavirus-associated deaths reported Thursday. There now have been 5,111 fatalities since the first death was reported in mid-March.

The latest weekly report released Thursday shows another 75 deaths in nursing homes between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1. This brought the number of reported nursing home deaths to 3,161, more than 60% of the all fatalities.

Lamont said the daily report Thursday showed the first decline in hospitalizations in more than a month. There was a net decline of 11 patients between new admissions and discharges to 1,191 statewide. The high remains 1,972 patients on April 22.

THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT reported Thursday there have been 920 cases in Naugatuck and 131 in Beacon Falls since March. The number of cases in Naugatuck increased 15 since Wednesday while four additional cases were reported in Beacon Falls.

There have been 44 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, which didn’t change from Wednesday, and none in Beacon Falls, according to health officials.

According to data released by the state, there have been 320 cases in Prospect since March, and no coronavirus-related deaths.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.