Officials optimistic about COVID-19 vaccine

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont says he has no plans to order mass vaccinations against COVID-19 in Connecticut when coronavirus vaccines become available.

Lamont and the co-chairman of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group on Monday discussed distribution plans after Pfizer Inc. reported promising initial results of a potential vaccine being developed in Connecticut and other locations.

Pfizer reported Monday that an interim analysis indicates its COVID-19 vaccine may be 90% effective.

Based on projections, the company and German partner BioNTech SE expect to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

“Those are the things that we are hoping for,” said John Burkhardt, a Pfizer senior vice president of research and development.

Lamont cheered the development during a news briefing Monday, but he cautioned widespread distribution of a successful Pfizer vaccine is still a long ways off yet, and that people need to continue to follow public health precautions, including wearing masks and observing social distancing.

“Look, we’re trying to present the science as we see it. It is good news. It is going to take maybe months to roll out,” he said.

LAMONT WAS ASKED if he planned to order mass vaccinations in Connecticut once any of the vaccines under development now by Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies are approved for use.

“No, that is not the way I am thinking about it,” he said.

Lamont said he believes the best way to carry out a statewide vaccination program is on a voluntary basis. He pointed to the high rates of influenza vaccinations here.

“Look at the end of the day, you’re more likely to get a flu shot in Connecticut than in just about any other state,” he said. “People know how important, and how safe and effective that can be, and I’d like to think COVID will follow the same track.”

IT WAS UNCLEAR how many doses of an approved Pfizer vaccine Connecticut can expect to receive, but Lamont estimated the state would receive 1% of the available doses in the U.S.

Based on Pfizer’s representations, this could mean 50,000 to 100,000 doses available by the end of the year. Two injections of the Pfizer vaccine will be required so the number of immunized patients will equate to half of the doses that are received

With a limited supply of vaccine initially, health care providers and other workers on the front lines in the viral outbreak are going to be given first priority, said Dr. Reginald J. Eadie, co-chairman of the Governor’s COVID-19 Advisory Group, and president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England.

The elderly and other people at high risk medically will be prioritized for vaccination, he said. Nursing homes and other potential hot spots will receive top priority, too.

Eadie said the availability of vaccines will also dictate the pace and reach of distributions. A three-stage distribution plan is being anticipated now.

In the first stage, he said demand is going to outstrip supply, and then state planners anticipate the inventory will gradually increase to where demand and supply even out in the second stage, and finally to the point where vaccine supplies exceed demand.

Initially, Eadie said the expectation is the state will partner with health systems, individual hospitals and local health departments and districts to carry out vaccinations.

THE ENCOURAGING NEWS concerning Pfizer’s potential vaccine offered some hope as the second wave of COVID-19 continued to wash over Connecticut.

State health officials on Monday said an additional 3,338 cases of COVID-19 were reported from Friday through Sunday. There have now been 81,463 cases since early March.

Lamont said the percentage of positive tests on Monday hit 3.6% on a rolling seven-day average.

There was a net increase of 94 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 496 statewide Sunday. Hospitalizations had fallen below 500 patients at the end of May.

“We’ve probably doubled the number of hospitalizations just in the last few weeks, and we’re watching this carefully,” Lamont said.

Despite the increases in infections and hospitalizations, he said hospital capacity is more than adequate, but 50% of beds in an intensive care units are currently occupied.

Another 27 coronavirus-associated deaths were reported between Friday and Sunday. There now have been 4,698 fatalities since mid-March.

“That is a three-day number, but it is still a high number. Our number of fatalities has gone up monthly for the last three months,” Lamont said.

THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT on Sunday reported 55 new cases in the six municipalities it covers — Beacon Falls, Naugatuck, Ansonia, Derby, Seymour and Shelton — since Friday, which brought the total in the six municipalities since March to 2,373 cases.

There have been 589 cases in Naugatuck and 81 in Beacon Falls, according to the health district. The number of cases in Naugatuck increased by eight since Friday, while Beacon Falls had four more cases.

The health district reported no new coronavirus-associated deaths since Friday. There have been 246 coronavirus-associated deaths overall in the district’s six towns. There have been 41 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck and none in Beacon Falls, according to health officials.

THE CHESPROCOTT HEALTH DISTRICT reported Friday there were 122 new cases last week in its jurisdiction of Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott. The new cases brought the three-town total since March to 834 cases.

Chesprocott reported there were 29 new cases in Prospect last week, bringing to town’s total to 166 since March.

Maura Esposito, director of health for Chesprocott, said the 122 cases was the highest one-week total in the health district so far. She said the district had cases associated with Halloween parties, baby showers, and lots of cases reporting contact due to positive cases in the workplace.

Chesprocott reported no new coronavirus-related deaths in the three towns. There have been 33 coronavirus-related deaths in the towns, and none in Prospect, according to the health district.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.