Connecticut shifts to age-based vaccine rollout

A major change to Connecticut's vaccination schedule was announced Monday, with the state continuing with a mostly age-based system to make the rollout less complicated after seeing the challenges other states have faced in vaccinating essential workers and people with underlying health conditions.

"I'm going to focus on the old business motto 'KISS,' keep it simple stupid, because I think a lot of complications were the results of states that tried to finely slice the salami and it got very complicated to administer," Gov. Ned Lamont said during a briefing with reporters. He said it became particularly challenging to determine which essential workers and which underlying health conditions should be included in the next group, which was expected to be announced this week.

Instead, Lamont said his administration decided to focus on the close links between age and risk to contract the disease, age and underlying health conditions, and age and COVID-associated fatalities.

"Age is a key determinant in terms of risk of fatalities, complications, hospitalizations — all the things we're desperately trying to avoid," said Lamont, noting that 96% of the COVID-associated deaths in Connecticut involved people over age 55.

Under the revised plan unveiled Monday, anyone aged 55 to 64 will be allowed to get a COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 1. That group of roughly 500,000 will be followed by an estimated 400,000 people age 45-54 on March 22; an estimated 400,000 people age 35-44 years on April 12; and everyone else 34 years and younger on May 3.

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The only exception to the Democratic governor's new rollout will be for pre-K-12 school staff — including teachers, bus drivers, custodial staff and others — as well as professional childcare providers. That group, which is estimated to include about 150,000 people, will be allowed to get their shots in March at dedicated clinics set up for them throughout the month. No dates have been announced yet.

Lamont previously said he would release details this week about which essential workers and people with underlying medical conditions could soon begin signing up for vaccinations. Currently, only people ages 65 and older and medical workers are eligible. The previous group eligible for the vaccine included people 75 years and older.

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However, Max Reiss, Lamont's spokesman, said it became clear over the weekend, when preparing a list of eligible medical conditions, that it was difficult to prioritize some over others. Also, those two broad groups of residents encompass more than 1 million people, which Reiss said could have led to long waiting times and confusion about eligibility.

While some residents praised the decision on social media, others voiced concern that younger people and essential workers with serious medical conditions will have to wait longer.

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"I've working on the frontlines serving my customers nearly every day since this started in March," said Jason Laviana of Torrington, a UFCW Local 371 supermarket employee, in a statement. "However, I have a pre-existing condition, that I was born with, and I didn't sign up to be exposed to a deadly virus at work. I was counting on this vaccine."

While she understands people are disappointed, Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting Department of Public Health commissioner, said the group with underlying health conditions and essential workers was "getting so large" that many people might have ended up waiting longer for their vaccine potentially than they will now.

"So this actually just makes it very clear for individuals in those categories. They can look at that calendar and say, 'OK, now I can see about when I might be able to get vaccinated," Gifford said. 

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Lamont also announced he is directing the Department of Public Health to set numerical targets and work with vaccine providers to ensure it is administered to people living in high-risk communities. 

Connecticut has been praised by both the Biden and Trump administrations for its rollout. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state ranked 5th in the nation on Feb. 21 for the percentage of residents - 16.3% - who've received at least one dose of the vaccine.