State to accelerate vaccination program

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont has upended the COVID-19 vaccination program again, announcing a plan Monday to start sign-ups for people age 16 and older a month earlier in April.

Lamont is scrapping the largely age-based system that he rolled out barely three weeks ago because of the increasing supply of vaccines from the federal government and accelerating pace of vaccination administration in Connecticut.

State residents ages 45 to 54 will be able to start scheduling appointments on Friday, three days earlier than previously planned, and then the revised schedule anticipates the vaccination program opening to everybody else age 16 and older on April 5.

State officials are exploring possibilities for giving priority to people with intellectual disabilities and pre-existing medical conditions once this last age group is vaccinated.

Lamont said this accelerated schedule is possible because of the anticipated increases in federal vaccine deliveries and the continuing progress being made in vaccine administration.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good distribution system. It is like a Swiss watch. It is working pretty well,” he said.

Lamont and aides said the federal government is indicating Connecticut can expect to see deliveries of first doses increase to 200,000 a week by early April. They said the federal assurances seem reliable.

“Well look, I’m never super confident, but, remember, six weeks ago we had less than 50,000 doses, so we’ll be up to 200,000 doses a week very soon,” Lamont said.

The governor said he is confident in the April 5 date for opening scheduling to anyone age 16 or older who has not yet been vaccinated.

“Unless the world shifts on its axis, I’m feeling pretty good about April 5. You can book it,” Lamont said.

CONNECTICUT CONTINUES TO RANK among the top five states in the nation in the percentage of population that has been vaccinated, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Through the weekend, 31% of the state’s population over the age of 16 have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, including 59% of people age 55 and older.

As of Sunday, only 496,006 state residents were fully vaccinated, meaning a person has received one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

In all, more than 1.3 million first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have been administered, plus 35,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Lamont and aides said deliveries of the single-dose J&J vaccine are expected to resume next week and then pick up, boosting the state’s vaccination effort.

Nearly 40% of the estimated 362,000 residents ages 55 to 64 have received their first vaccine dose since the vaccination program opened to this age group on March 1.

State officials assumed 60% of each age group would opt to get vaccinated when the switch to the largely age-based system was made.

There are an estimated 477,000 residents ages 45 to 54, so a 60% uptake rate equates to 286,200, but only 200,000 sign-ups are expected because 85,000 members of this last age group in the rotation have already been vaccinated, said Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer.

He estimated that immunizing that many people will require roughly two weeks of vaccine supply at this time.

Geballe said there are an estimated 1.3 million more people ages 16 to 44, but state officials are expecting the uptake rate among this younger group of residents will be lower than older age groups. Also, approximately 160,000 members of these consolidated age groups have already been vaccinated, he added.

Geballe estimated 625,000 residents in the 16 to 44 age group will choose to get vaccinated.

Lamont and Geballe said they expect state outreach efforts in May will shift focus to state residents who have declined for whatever reasons to take advantage of the free vaccination program.

“I think you’re going to find by mid-May we’re going to be going out trying to convince people that they ought to come in and get vaccinated,” Lamont said. “You’re going to get to that group of people, 25-30%, that are a little reluctant, don’t feel the urgency, and we’re going to be trying to bring them in.”

INFECTIONS, HOSPITALIZATIONS AND DEATHS increased between Friday and Sunday, according to the weekend statistics that were released Monday.

State health officials reported 2,525 new cases of COVID-19 out of 85,596 tests results received for a three-day positive test rate of 3%.

There now have been 293,102 cases reported since early last March, and more than 7.2 million molecular and antigen tests have been performed.

There was a net increase of 26 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 between new admissions and discharges to 407 statewide, including 172 patients in New Haven County, 117 patients in Fairfield County and 80 patients in Hartford County.

Another 23 coronavirus-linked deaths were reported over the weekend. There now have been 7,788 deaths attributed to COVID-19 or complications from the viral disease.

The state reported Monday there have been 2,901 cases in Naugatuck, 746 in Prospect and 464 in Beacon Falls since last March. There have been 88 coronavirus-related deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and four in Prospect, according to state data. The reported deaths attributed to COVID-19 increased by one in Naugatuck from late last week, while the deaths reported in Beacon Falls and Prospect remained the same.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.