Lamont switches vaccination strategy to age-based approach


By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

Griffin Hospital nurse Cary Carpino administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Andrew Bertola of Beacon Falls on Feb. 11 during a vaccination clinic run by Beacon Falls and Griffin Hospital at the Beacon Falls Senior Center. Clinic workers administered 25 vaccine doses during the clinic and residents will return March 11 to receive their second dose. –ANDREAS YILMA

HARTFORD — In a change of vaccination strategy, Gov. Ned Lamont has decided to follow an age-based approach for administering COVID-19 vaccines to the remainder of the state’s population willing to get the shot.

The state vaccination program will open up to people ages 55 to 64 on March 1 under a tentative schedule that was released Monday. The schedule progresses to ages 45 to 54 on March 22, ages 35 to 44 on April 12 and ages 16 to 64 on May 3.

Lamont scrapped previous plans to vaccinate a final group of essential workers and state residents under age 64 with pre-existing medical conditions next before opening up the state vaccination program to everybody else. It also broke with his administration’s past practice of closely adhering to the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Prevention.

The only exceptions are school workers and child care providers. There will be dedicated vaccination clinics in March for these two categories of essential workers. The details of the arrangements are still being worked out.

The eligible list of school system employees includes classroom teachers, building principals, paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria workers and school bus drivers. School volunteers assisting in the classroom will also be eligible.

Members of school boards will be excluded along with any school district employees who work outside of a school building, including employees who are telecommuting due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The governor and members of his pandemic response team said Monday that this revised distribution strategy is the most equitable and efficient means for quickly administering COVID-19 vaccines.

“I believe had we maintained the direction we were going in, we would be talking about probably June or July, I don’t remember the calculations, but this is the fastest way to get as many residents of the state of Connecticut vaccinated as possible,” said Dr. Reginald Eadie, co-leader of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, and president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England.

He predicted the state’s revised strategy will become a national model for best practices.

Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, said the change in strategy will delay vaccinations for some residents with chronic medical conditions and essential workers previously slated to go next, but prolonged delays are not expected.

“First of all, we understand that some people will have to wait a few more weeks. In most cases, it wouldn’t be months,” she said. “I would encourage people who were in one of those categories or have a chronic condition to look at the calendar and see where they are slotted in to our proposed strategy.”

THE AGE-BASED APPROACH also spared Lamont and his administration from having to make thorny calls on what pre-existing conditions to prioritize for vaccinations over others.

The allocation subcommittee of Lamont’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group previously recommended giving preference to residents with one of 11 medical conditions that the CDC determined create higher risks of severe illness and death from the viral disease.

This list includes chronic kidney disease, Down syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart conditions, sickle cell disease, pregnancy and immunocompromised conditions, and smoking.

Lamont and Gifford said no exceptions will be made for chronic conditions, but there is a high correlation between health risks and age.

“Age is a key determinant in terms of risk of fatalities, complications, hospitalizations — all the things we’re desperately trying to avoid,” Lamont said.

He observed that 96% of the 7,562 coronavirus-linked deaths reported through Sunday were people over the age of 55.

State health officials estimated there are 363,000 state residents between the ages of 16 and 64 who have one or more of 11 medical conditions that the CDC says put people at higher risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.

It was also projected that there were roughly 325,000 essential workers remaining to be vaccinated, including approximately 160,000 educators and other school workers.

Gifford and Lamont said the switch to an age-based vaccination strategy made for more manageable numbers.

There are approximately 500,000 residents ages 55 to 64, 477,000 residents ages 45 to 54, and 427,100 residents ages 35 to 44, according to the latest population estimates from the state Department of Public Health.

The working assumption is 60% of each remaining age group will elect to get vaccinated.

MORE VACCINE DOSES will be directed to cities and towns that have vulnerable populations. State health officials will be monitoring how vaccines are being administered in those communities.

Additional doses have been going to the 34 cities and towns that rated 75% or higher on the Social Vulnerability Index that CDC uses to identify communities vulnerable to disease outbreak and most likely to need support during a public health emergency.

Lamont and Gifford said the Department of Public Health will set numerical targets for high-risk communities and work with vaccine providers to ensure residents of these municipalities and their underserved and vulnerable populations are getting vaccinated.

The federal government is expected to ship 95,000 first doses of the available Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to Connecticut this week, said Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating office. The state will receive 59,000 doses. Another 23,000 doses will be allocated directly to pharmacies.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be effective against the coronavirus.