A key panel of experts on Gov. Ned Lamont’s Vaccine Advisory Group wants to add about 720,000 Connecticut residents to the list of people next in line for COVID vaccinations.
The group on Tuesday recommended that people aged 65 and older and those of all ages with conditions that put them more at risk for COVID-19 should be included in the next round of vaccinations.
But the panel’s decision stopped short of outlining a specific order for how the new populations will be prioritized in the next wave, known as Phase 1B and set to begin next week.
The panel instead recommended that the state Department of Public Health develop a phased approach to ensure the vaccine is administered.
The push to expand the list of eligible recipients in the next phase came as Connecticut recorded 3,689 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday while the daily positivity rate hit 10.72 percent, according the governor’s office.
There were 12 more COVID hospitalizations, bringing the statewide total to 1,154. There were also 31 more deaths attributed to the illness, increasing Connecticut’s death toll to 6,449. That means the state will likely surpass 6,500 deaths in the coming days, around two weeks since Connecticut surpassed 6,000.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said people 65 and older and those with two or more medical conditions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be added to the next phase of vaccinations.
However, the Connecticut group’s recommendations include people of any age with one or more medical conditions on the CDC list.
Nichelle Mullins, one of the allocation subcommittee’s co-chairs, said the group was concerned that the CDC guidelines would not include at-risk people who only have one condition. She cited people with Down Syndrome and people with organ transplants as two examples.
“I understand that the population size is increasing, but I trust the Department of Public Health to come up with a fair phased roll-in approach that will address all of the concerns that the committee has mentioned,” Mullins said.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said he has received messages from people advocating for those with Down Syndrome as well as those who are immune-compromised due to an organ transplant.
“Both of those groups have a high morbidity rate, and again we’re talking under 3,000 of those individuals,” he said.
The panel’s latest recommendation significantly broadens the number of people expected to be vaccinated in the next phase.
Connecticut officials have urged patience, saying they want to avoid the long lines of people waiting to receive the shot seen in other states.
“Again, let me just reiterate, please be patient,” Lamont said Monday during his press briefing. “I think you’ve seen the pictures from Florida and other places — ‘first come, first served, everybody over 55 come and join’ — that’s not the way it’s gonna work, and there are more dissatisfied people in those states that have done it that way.”
The CDC originally called for those 75 and older to be vaccinated in the next wave, which also included front-line essential workers like first responders, school staff, child care workers, grocery store employees and correctional staff.
Last week, Connecticut’s advisory panel added residents of congregate settings — including prison inmates — to the list, and expanded the list of essential workers.
The panel’s Tuesday meeting was originally billed as a way to add a slim population to the next wave of vaccine distribution intended to address concerns about some people having limited access.
In a two-hour meeting last week, members failed to reach a consensus on how to ensure the vaccine went to younger people with underlying medical conditions and communities of color that have been hard hit by the pandemic.
But Tuesday’s recommendations would add 720,000 Connecticut residents to the next round of vaccinations, according to Marwan Haddad, a member of the panel and medical director for Community Health Center.
The governor’s office announced people 75 and older who are not residents of long-term care facilities can start registering to get vaccinated this week, with the first appointments set to begin Monday.
That will mark the start of Phase 1B in Connecticut.
The state is vaccinating those who are part of Phase 1A populations, which include residents and staff of long-term care facilities like nursing homes, front-line medical staff and certain first responders.
State Rep. Harry Arora said Tuesday he believes it’s the right move to vaccinate those 75 and older next.
But he also advocated for vaccinating those with serious medical conditions at the same time, before moving to those 60 and older. Essential workers should then follow sometime in the spring, he argued.
The Greenwich Republican last month called for seniors to be first vaccinated against the disease in an op-ed.
Arora said the other challenge is explaining to his constituents how to register to receive the vaccine, particularly for those over the age of 75.
“A lot of the questions I’m getting are ‘how?’” he said Tuesday. He suggested the process for getting a vaccine appointment should be outlined on a simple document officials can post on their websites, or doctors offices should assist patients in registering for a vaccine appointment.
“That community, that age group — we need to start communicating now,” he said.