The next phases of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine will be based on age — but with school employees and childcare workers given special priority and efforts made to reach “vulnerable communities” — according to the Office of the Governor.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced today that individuals between the age of 55 and 64 could begin to register for the vaccine on March 1. People aged 45 to 54 will be able to register beginning on March 22, those aged 35 to 44 beginning on April 12, and all remaining individuals will be able to register starting on May 3.
The new timeline is a departure from previous guidelines, which prioritized essential workers and people with preexisting conditions.
Lamont said that focusing on age was a way to keep things simple. He said that other states had run into difficulties when they tried to base vaccine eligibility on employment status or underlying medical conditions.
“A lot of complications result from states that tried to finely slice the salami,” said Lamont.
He also pointed out that there was a strong correlation between age and risk of death. Of the 7,496 people who died from COVID in Connecticut, 4,350 were over 80 years old, 1,679 were between the ages of 70 and 79 and 941 people were between the ages of 60 and 69.
Acting Commissioner of the Department of Public Health Deirdre Gifford said that the majority of people who have comorbidities are over the age of 55, meaning that many of the people who would have been eligible under the original guidelines would still be getting their vaccine soon.
Connecticut has so far vaccinated 70 percent of individuals over the age of 75 and 37 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74.
According to Connecticut Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe, there are 650,000 people in Connecticut in the 55-64 age group and 400,000 people each in the 45-54 age group and 35-44 age group.
Lamont said that he was “pretty confident” of the amount of vaccine that would be available to the state going forward.
Geballe said that last week the state received 59,000 doses of vaccine, which increased to 72,000 this week, in addition to 23,000 doses from the federal pharmacy program. That increase is expected to continue in the coming weeks, and Geballe said he hoped that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine would soon be approved.
Reginald Eadie, co-chair of the state’s Vaccine Advisory Group, said that the decision to base eligibility on age had come out of discussions with the group’s Allocation Subcommittee.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, a member of the governor’s Vaccine Advisory Group, told CT Examiner that she believed age was the best way to determine eligibility.
“[It] takes any sort of favoritism out of the equation,” said Somers. “[It’s] one of the most equitable ways to roll out a vaccine.”
Educators and vulnerable communities
Lamont announced plans to create a separate “track” of vaccinations for school employees and childcare providers. Geballe said they were currently contacting superintendents and local health departments in order to set up special clinics for these workers. The clinics will run through the month of March, beginning as early as next week.
The vaccine will be available to not just teachers and paraeducators, but custodial staff, food service workers, bus drivers, childcare providers and any others who work with children in person. This adds up to about 160,000 people, according to Geballe.
“I’d like to think we’re going to have the teachers and everybody else working in the schools vaccinated in less than a month,” said Lamont.
Lamont said he decided to prioritize educators over other essential workers because of the importance of keeping the schools open.
Geballe pointed out that once a teacher has been vaccinated, he or she does not have to quarantine — a critical consideration given that many school shutdowns were caused by staffing shortages, when large numbers of teachers and students were forced to quarantine.
State officials also said that prioritizing educators was a way of addressing equity. Beth Bye, commissioner of Early Childhood Education, said that 45 percent of childcare providers are people of color, and 90 percent are women. Geballe also said that COVID-related school shutdowns had had a disproportionate impact on students of color.
According to Eadie, the subcommittee leadership had also asked for a separate track for vulnerable communities, prompting the Department of Public Health and the state to work on a strategy to make the vaccine accessible for individuals living in these areas.
Gifford said that the department was working with healthcare providers to reach communities who were high on the social vulnerability index — a tool that identifies communities most vulnerable to negative impacts from a public health crisis like the pandemic.
Gifford said the department planned to develop numerical targets for how many people they want to vaccinate in these communities, and to make sure providers would meet those targets on a week-by-week basis. She said providers were “enthusiastic” to make this commitment.
Eadie said they would also have the opportunity to help ease some of the hesitancy that members of the community might have toward receiving the vaccine.
In response to concerns that the Governor’s Office had not given the public an opportunity to weigh in on the new vaccine eligibility guidelines, Eadie said the allocation subcommittee received input from the community as well as from healthcare providers.
“I think this is going to end up being a best practice throughout the country,” said Eadie. “This is the fastest way to get as many residents in the state of Connecticut vaccinated as possible.”