The Path Forward For Connecticut’s Age-Based Vaccine Rollout
States are racing to ease pandemic restrictions as COVID-19 infections continue to drop across the country. Connecticut is no exception. Governor Ned Lamont has dramatically reduced restrictions but won’t drop the mask mandate, while the state tries to vaccinate as quickly as possible.
“This is not Texas. This is not Mississippi,” Lamont said. “This is Connecticut. We are maintaining the masks.”
The latest guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people can gather without wearing masks. But federal health officials caution about state’s lifting restrictions too quickly.
Last month, Lamont did not stick with CDC guidelines when he decided to go out on his own and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine mainly by age.
“Get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can, especially those age related who are much more likely to suffer complications and fatalities,” he said. “Get the shots in the arm as fast as you can.”
Lamont said the simpler the criteria for the rollout, the better.
“I’m going to focus on the old business model KISS — keep it simple stupid,” he said.
Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer who’s in charge of the vaccine rollout in Connecticut, told Capitol Avenue on WSHU that there’s no need for a doctor's note.
“Everybody knows how old they are,” Geballe said. “There's no questions there. Easy to document.”
At the same time, Lamont will now allow restaurants to open at full capacity beginning March 19. And large entertainment venues would be allowed to open their doors in April.
“We are going to maintain the mask and the spacing requirements,” Lamont said. “What that means in terms of restaurants and theaters we are keeping that in place, eight people to a table so it doesn't become a big party. And we are going to maintain the 11 p.m. curfew.”
A crucial part of Lamont’s roll out plan has been trying to reach out to underserved Black and Latinx communities in Connecticut’s larger cities. To do that, Lamont has solicited the aid of the Black and Latinx clergy.
The Reverend Carl McCluster, senior pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport, said there’s vaccine skepticism in the community that has to be countered.
“I choose to face the facts, not getting the vaccine is putting yourself at mortal danger right now,” McCluster said. “Taking the vaccine is protecting yourself and your family.”
McCluster spoke at a vaccine clinic at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, where he and eight fellow Black and Latinx clergy in the city had come to get their shots.
“It is time for us to fight the fear of taking this vaccine. To fight the fear of COVID. And for us it begins right here with these COVID shots today,” he said.
Lamont said the state has set-up mobile clinics to get the vaccine into their communities.
“We are going to bring them right to your churches to make it easier for people. If you can't get to St. Vincent’s, we’ll come to you,” he said.
Lamont’s plan could be slowed down by either not having enough doses or failure to overcome the reluctance of some communities to get vaccinated.
State figures showed this month that only 6.9% of Connecticut’s Black and Latinx residents had taken their first shot of the vaccine. That’s compared to 16% of white residents.
Seventy-eight-year-old Bridgeport resident Christie White and her two sisters who are in their eighties were among the first in line to get their shots.
“Too many of our people are passing away because they are not listening to the scientists and doing what they say. So that's why we came to take the shot. And we are very pleased,” White said. “By us being here three sisters maybe we can inspire other people to come and take the shot.”
“We want to live and then we took the shot,” she continued.
Hartford Healthcare CEO Jeffrey Flaks said they have the capacity to do 80,000 vaccinations a week. But at the beginning of March, the hospital system was only doing 12,000 from the federal government’s supply.
“So we have significant capacity beyond what we're presently doing,” he said. “Our only rate-limiting factor is the amount of vaccine we get in many ways we're built to deliver.”
The Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine coming on stream this month means the vaccinations have been stepped up.
“So our ambition is to make it as easy as possible to ensure that no community is left behind,” Flaks said.
Connecticut expects to cover most residents 55 and up as well as teachers and childcare providers by the end of the month. Eligibility will expand to residents 45 and older by March 22. Then, those 35 and over next month, and people 16 and up in May.
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