Panel wrestles with decision of who’s next for COVID vaccine

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — An advisory panel to Gov. Ned Lamont wrestled Tuesday with thorny, life-or-death questions about which essential workers and vulnerable populations to recommend be vaccinated next against COVID-19.

Panel members agreed staff and residents of congregate settings such as prisons, homeless shelters and group homes should be included in the next vaccination round. They also proposed to add some more classes of critical workers.

The allocation subcommittee of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group was unable reach consensus on other groups, including people under the age of 65 with underlying health risks; racial and ethnic minority communities at increased risk from COVID-19; and individuals with intellectual and developmental disorders and their uncompensated caretakers.

The subcommittee plans to meet again soon to work out its final recommendations for Phase 1b and 1c vaccine distribution. No meeting date was set.

Hospital workers, nursing home residents and staff, and emergency medical responders are now being vaccinated in Phase 1a. State health officials estimate there are about 320,000 eligible individuals.

At the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting public health commissioner, summed up the stark trade-offs: Moving categories of essential workers and at-risk populations up in order means others must wait longer to be vaccinated at the jeopardy of their health and lives.

The Department of Public Health is estimating Phase 1b could be completed in nine to 10 weeks if the pool is kept to approximately 800,000 people. This estimate assumes the state receives 50,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine a week and 60% of eligible individuals decide to get vaccinated.

“To the extent that we add large populations in 1b, it will make this period longer, and de facto means that some of the individuals in Phase 1b receive their vaccine later than they would have had we not added that new group to that phase,” said Gifford, an epidemiologist.

The recommendation Tuesday to include people living and working in congregate settings adds 46,000 more individuals to the Phase 1b pool. There are an estimated 320,000 people between the ages of 16 and 64 with underlying high-risk medical conditions.

Gifford also cautioned the pace of vaccinations will depend on the supply of vaccines and the number of eligible individuals who choose to get vaccinated in each round.

“This is not an easy discussion,” said Nichelle Mullins, president of Charter Oak Health Center and co-chairwoman of the subcommittee. “Ultimately, it seems like we’re going to be leaving people out just due to the limited number of the vaccines that we have available, and we knew that from the beginning.”

Other subcommittee members saw the same challenges as Gifford and Mullins.

“This is a balancing act between protecting those who are most vulnerable and preventing the disease spread,” said Dr. Michael Carius, chairman-elect of the American Board of Medical Specialties and an emergency room doctor at Bridgeport and Milford hospitals.

Dr. Marwan Haddad, medical director of the Center for Key Populations at Community Health Center in Middletown, said, “I just want to ensure from a health-equity perspective that as we put more people in the 1b, that we’re not really starting to sort of phase out the most vulnerable.”

STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS TUESDAY reported increases in the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

There were 2,332 new cases out of 30,458 tests results received Monday. The infection rate increased from 5.3% on Sunday to 7.7%.

The daily statistics released Tuesday showed a net increase of 55 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 for a total of 1,149 statewide and 24 more deaths for a total of 6,192.

Locally, there have been 1,975 cases — an increase of 23 from Monday — in Naugatuck since March. There have been 503 cases in Prospect and 305 in Beacon Falls, increases of three and two, respectively, since Monday.

There were no new coronavirus-associated deaths reported in Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Prospect on Tuesday. There have been 68 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, four in Beacon Falls and one in Prospect, according to state data.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.