J&J shot supply issues make vax schedule uncertain

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — State officials are unsure of Connecticut’s future supply of the only single-dose COVID-19 vaccine available as 100,000 newly eligible 16- to 44-year-olds started signing up Thursday for appointments.

The disclosure Wednesday that a factory error ruined 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine presented another planning challenge for Gov. Ned Lamont and his pandemic response team. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both require two doses.

The timing of the J&J setback was inopportune on the eve of the transition to the next vaccination phase, and state officials are unsure of how the vaccination schedule might be affected.

“I’d like to think we aren’t going to miss a beat,” Lamont said Thursday.

The state received its weekly allotment of J&J vaccines, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that state will also get its full shipment next week.

“Our supply for this week has arrived. Our supply for next week is on schedule,” Lamont said.

State officials are uncertain about the ramifications for deliveries after next week as a result of the mishap with one of J&J’s manufacturing partners.

“Beyond that, we have a little less clarity in terms of how this plays through, but at least through the short-term when we have far more demand than supply, still particularly as we open up to the rest of the state today, we’ll be well positioned to keep vaccinating very quickly this week and next week at least,” said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer.

At this time, the J&J vaccine represents 2.5% of the more than 1.9 million vaccine doses that have been administered in Connecticut, but the single-dose vaccine figures largely in the state’s plan to reduce racial, ethnic and rural disparities in the vaccination rollout.

Geballe was unsure when state officials might be in a position to gauge the consequences of the J&J disruption. He said White House officials were unable to provide much guidance during a conference call earlier Thursday.

“They made it sound like we should still see a significant volume of Johnson & Johnson in the rest of April as well,” Geballe said.

The state allocation will increase next week from 120,000 doses to 142,000 doses. There was no information Thursday on deliveries for pharmacies and federally qualified health centers. To date, 49,013 J&J shots have been administered.

“It looks like next week should be another record week in terms of the number of first doses coming into Connecticut, which is great news,” Geballe said.

To date, 733,391 of the state’s nearly 3.6 million residents have been fully vaccinated, meaning they have received a shot of the single-dose J&J vaccine, or a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

MORE THAN 100,000 APPOINTMENTS were scheduled Thursday as vaccine eligibility was extended to residents ages 16 to 44.

There are an estimated 1.3 million members of this final age group, but only 600,000 are expected to sign up between the contingents who have already been vaccinated, and those not expected to get vaccinated.

“This is a demographic that has been waiting a couple of months now for their opportunity, and I think it made them smile,” Lamont said.

Not everybody was smiling. There were grumbles and frustrations about making appointments like every other vaccination phases.

“As we have warned every time we open up a new phase, there is a lot more people looking to book appointments than we have vaccines in that week, but with the continued supply over the next couple of weeks all of our providers are constantly adding new appointment slots,” Geballe said. “We remain confident that everybody who is looking for a vaccine today, even if they haven’t been able to find an appointment, will be able to find one in the next two to three weeks.”

Lamont and Geballe also reported that the first two dedicated vaccination clinics for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be conducted Friday in Torrington and Trumbull. The administration is anticipating doing 15 more over the next 10 days.

Geballe and Lamont said hospitals and other health care providers have also been reaching out to schedule appointments for patients with five underlying medical conditions that are being prioritized for vaccination.

INFECTIONS AND DEATHS INCREASED AGAIN, but state health officials reported a decline in hospitalizations for COVID-19 since Wednesday.

There were 1,580 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday out of 35,358 test results received for a daily positive test rate of nearly 4.5%. There now have been 312,448 reported cases and more than 7.7 million molecular and antigen tests performed.

The state Department of Public Health reported an additional 90 cases of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus that was first detected in the United Kingdom since last week.

There now have been 469 B.1.1.7 cases. Overall, there now have been 2,516 cases of variants labeled as of interest or concern.

An additional 14 coronavirus-associated deaths were reported Thursday. There now have been 7,900 deaths attributed to COVID-19 or complications from the viral disease.

Hospitals reported a net decline of 21 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 between new admissions and discharges to 492 statewide.

The state reported there have been 3,143 cases in Naugatuck, 804 in Prospect and 507 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There have been 88 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and four in Prospect, according to state officials.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.