State health officials say most vulnerable cities lagging behind vaccination effort

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

An advisory panel to Gov. Ned Lamont was briefed Tuesday on an emerging vaccination divide as COVID-19 immunizations of people age 75 and older resumed following Monday’s weather-related disruption.

State health officials documented how only 36% of the initial doses of the currently available two-dose vaccines were administered to eligible residents living in 34 cities and towns considered most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Each of those communities have at least one census tract featuring one or more of 15 social factors the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says make them vulnerable to disease outbreak and most likely to need support during a public health emergency.

State health officials informed the allocation subcommittee of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group how they are using the CDC’s Social Vulnerable Index to target communities most in need to make vaccine distribution more equitable.

An initial review of the preliminary vaccination data for residents 75 and older has revealed inequities, said Benjamin Bechtolsheim, director of COVID-19 vaccination for the state Department of Health.

The initial data is showing a significant lag in the 34 towns and cities ranked in the top quarter of the CDC index. The group includes Waterbury and the four other cities with populations over 100,000, mid-sized cities and several small, rural towns mostly in Eastern Connecticut, said Amanda Anduaga-Roberson, a deputy public health commissioner. She noted initial numbers showed a disproportionate difference in first-dose coverage.

Through Monday, approximately 40,500 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were administered to eligible residents of the 34 most vulnerable communities, compared to 71,755 initial doses in the remaining 135 municipalities.

Overall, 45% of residents ages 75 and up had received a first dose through Monday, but the coverage rate was 36% for the 34 towns and cities that ranked in the top quarter of the CDC index, compared to 52% for the others.

In the five largest cities, the coverage rates were 23% for Bridgeport, 25% for Waterbury, 31% for Hartford, 38% for New Haven and 46% for Stamford. This contrasts with rates of 99.3% for Roxbury, 86.7% for Oxford, 79.7% for Beacon Falls, 71.6% for Kent and 56% for Cheshire.

Bechtolsheim and Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, advised panel members they are expecting to receive roughly 55,000 vaccine doses a week from the federal government for the foreseeable future.

Gifford and Bechtolsheim also said state officials will start giving vaccination providers three-week forecasts of vaccine deliveries so they can plan better. Vaccination clinics, including one in Naugatuck run with Waterbury Hospital, had run short of vaccines, upsetting people who were unable to get their shots, and causing friction between the state and providers.

The allocation subcommittee’s briefing came as 2,568 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, bringing the total case count to 256,222.

The daily positive test rate was 4.4% based on the 58,597 results received Monday.

Hospitalizations continued to decline for a 10th day, with a net decrease of 12 patients for 900 statewide. Hospitalizations have not been this low since Nov. 23, when there were 891.

There were 14 more deaths reported Tuesday for 7,133 total.

The state reported Tuesday 21 new cases in Naugatuck, one in Prospect and three in Beacon Falls. There have been 2,544 cases in Naugatuck, 631 in Prospect, and 399 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There was one new coronavirus-associated death reported in Beacon Falls, bringing the total to five. There have been 80 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck and two in Prospect.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.