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Public Health Commissioner Says Politics To Blame For Vaccine Lag In Connecticut's Northeast Corner

Acting state Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford
Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public Radio
Acting state Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford

New numbers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Connecticut’s northeast corner is seeing a much slower COVID-19 vaccination rate when compared to other parts of the state. 

Since about mid-March, Middlesex County has led Connecticut in the number of its residents who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

As of June 9, about 63% of Middlesex County’s entire population, not just those who are age-eligible, has received either a second dose of a two-dose vaccine or a single shot of a one-dose vaccine. 

Doing the worst is the state’s northeast corner.

In Tolland County, the fully vaccinated rate is about 51%. Windham County ranks last, with the fully vaccinated number at around 45%, nearly 20 percentage points off the leading Connecticut county. 

Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner at the state Department of Public Health, said a few reasons could explain the northeast corner and its lagging vaccine rate. 

“There are demographic differences that probably account for some of that,” Gifford said. “And we know that there are political differences in who is willing to get vaccinated.”

“That area of Connecticut has a little bit of a different political profile than the rest of the state,” Gifford said. “That’s consistent with what we’re seeing across the country, which is, areas that are more conservative are having a slower uptake of vaccines.”

As of mid-April, Windham and Fairfield counties both reported lagging vaccination rates when compared to other areas of Connecticut. 

But Fairfield County’s uptake has increased substantially in recent weeks. Roughly 56% of its total population is now fully vaccinated, which outpaces every other Connecticut county except Middlesex and New London, according to CDC data. 

Litchfield, New Haven and Hartford counties all report about 55% of residents fully vaccinated. 

Gifford said the DPH is working with local health care providers and will do pop-up clinics at local fairs in the northeast corner in the hopes of increasing the number of people getting shots.

“I don’t think access is an issue,” Gifford said. “We’ve really worked hard all over the state, but in our rural areas in particular, to make sure that, where there were geographic gaps, we provided ways to fill that in by working with our local partners.”

Despite the relatively slow vaccine uptake in the state’s northeast corner, Connecticut’s worst-performing counties are still doing better than national averages. 

CDC data released this week show that about 43% of the entire U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.