Panel to review distribution plan for vaccine

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — State residents eager to find out when they might get a spot in the COVID-19 vaccine line could get some clarity this week.

The allocation subcommittee of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group is meeting Tuesday to resume distribution planning after recommending the next group of essential workers and vulnerable communities to be vaccinated.

Subcommittee members have some time to work out the panel’s next recommendations because the second phase of the state’s vaccination program is going to take a while to complete based on its size and the current pace of vaccinations.

There are approximately 1.6 million to 1.7 million people eligible to be vaccinated between Phase 1a that started Dec. 14 and Phase 1b that started last Monday.

The state is only expecting to get 45,000 to 50,000 doses a week for the foreseeable future. Also, the currently available Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be effective against the coronavirus.

An approximate vaccination timetable put out last week had Phase 1c commencing in May, and it contemplated that sign-ups and vaccinations for healthy people ages 16 to 64 would start in June.

Patience is a watchword that people anxious to get vaccinated are hearing a lot now from Gov. Ned Lamont and Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting public health commissioner. Like vaccines, the supply of this commodity also is being stretched.

State officials reported last week that approximately 260,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had been administered since mid-December. But just slightly more than 30,000 second shots had been given out.

With the limited supply, vaccine doses are not being wasted, said Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer. As of last week, he said a dropped vile was the only incident that had come to state’s attention. Five doses of vaccine were lost.

Lamont and Gifford continue to stress that supply and demand will dictate the pace of vaccination. A common refrain heard last week was that Connecticut could vaccinate five times as many if vaccine doses were available.

At the current rate, Phase 1a is expected to be completed in February. This initial stage was limited to direct care providers and other critical workers in health care settings, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders at risk of exposure. An estimated 323,000 people were eligible, but uptake rates varied among the subgroups.

State residents 75 and older living in the community are the first group being vaccinated in Phase 1b. This covers an estimated 277,000 people. Upward of 50,000 first doses were administered in the first week, according to state/stage figures.

The next group in line are older residents age 65 to 74, and then people age 16 to 64 with one or more medical conditions that federal guidelines say put them at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.

There are eight categories of essential workers who will be the last to go in Phase 1b, including teachers and school staff, grocery store employees, farm workers, first responders not included in Phase 1a, sanitation workers, and manufacturing workers.

The tentative timetable indicated the rest of the Phase 1b vaccinations will start in late February or March.

The vaccinations of staff and residents of such congregate settings as prisons, homeless shelters and group homes will be happening in concert with the other groups in Phase 1b. This schedule was still being worked out last week.

There are nearly 1.4 million workers included in Phase 1b. State health officials were expecting to take nine to 10 weeks to complete this phase when they assumed an eligibility pool of 800,000 to 850,000.

The remaining essential workforce in the Phase 1c pool include 400,000 to 450,000 workers in various fields, including construction, finance, information technology, communications, media, energy, public safety and the law.