Vaccination of frontline workers begins

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By Brigitte Ruthman and Tracey O’Shaughnessy, Republican-American

Frontline workers began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations Monday, as the nation battles a second surge of the pandemic that is filling hospital beds and pushing resources to the brink.

A Hartford HealthCare doctor was among the first in Connecticut to receive the vaccine.

Dr. Keith Grant rolled up the sleeve of his white coat Monday as one of the first 14 workers in line for Pfizer’s two-phase shot, which has shown to be 95% effective.

The vaccine was part of the state’s first shipment of nearly 32,000 doses from Pfizer, which has major research operations in Groton.

Trinity Health of New England — which operates Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury — and Yale New Haven Health expect to receive 2,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine Tuesday and begin administering them to frontline health workers that afternoon. Waterbury Hospital is set to receive its first batch Tuesday.

“It’s a very historic week in our goal to crushing this pandemic,” said Dr. Syed Hussain, Trinity’s chief medical officer.

Gov. Ned Lamont, along with Hartford HealthCare President Jeffrey Flaks, addressed reporters and hospital employees beneath a tent outside Hartford Hospital Monday morning. They described the historic moment as the equivalent of putting a man on the moon. The rapid pace of vaccine development, approval and distribution has been “almost impossible,” Flaks said.

THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH reported Monday there have been 7,321 new COVID-19 cases in the state since Friday out of 119,015 tests reported. The positive test rate was 6.08%.

There now have been 153,992 cases recorded and more than 3.8 million tests done since March.

Health officials reported 81 new coronavirus-related deaths since Friday, bringing the total since March to 5,444. There were 1,243 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, a net increase of 33 patients since Friday.

The state reported there have been 1,534 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 48 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck since March.

There have been 210 confirmed and probable cases in Beacon Falls and three deaths, according to state data. There have been 399 confirmed and probable cases and one coronavirus-associated death in Prospect, the state reported.

BY DEC. 21, VACCINE SHIPMENTS are expected to be transported to CVS and Walgreens distribution centers and then sent to nursing homes throughout Connecticut, Lamont said.

The first Pfizer doses will be split evenly between hospitals and nursing homes in the state.

Dr. Reggy Eadie, president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England, expects more vaccines to receive Food and Drug Administration approval in the next few months.

“We think in the very near future we’ll have other vaccines,” he said. “We are elated. We are happy to see that this is a dawning of tomorrow.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will review Moderna’s vaccine later this week.

The Pfizer vaccine uses a genetic molecule called RNA to cause our own cells to make a viral protein. When the immune system encounters that protein, it makes antibodies and other immune cells that swiftly attack it. Moderna, which uses a similar technology, says its vaccine is 94% effective. The FDA is scheduled to review its data Dec. 17 and issue an emergency use approval soon after.

Eadie said he believes by the end of next summer or early fall “we as a country and as a state should be looking herd immunity right in the face.” Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population has become immune to infection, either through vaccination or infection. That reduces the likelihood that others who lack immunity by these means will become infected.

He acknowledged that vaccine hesitancy, “especially among communities of color,” may be one of the hurdles in reaching herd immunity. He said officials need to get the information to the potential people getting vaccinated and answer all their questions.

As vaccines trickle in, however, Eadie said holiday gatherings will likely compound the growing numbers of cases and hospitalizations.

“This is the urgency,” he said. “Because now there is a capacity issue we have to answer and a staffing issue.”

Roughly 240,000 health care workers and nursing home residents and staff in Connecticut should be fully vaccinated by the end of January, assuming 80% of people in those groups agree to get a shot, Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said last week.

From mid-January to May, about 1 million people in Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination plan are expected to get vaccinated. That includes critical workers, people living in other congregate settings, people over age 65 and those under age 65 who are high risk. All others are expected to have access to a vaccine in June.

Yale New Haven Health, the largest hospital system in the state, said it will take 17 weeks until its whole staff is vaccinated.

Elio Gugliotti and The Associated Press contributed to this report.