Details expected Monday for accelerated vaccine access for high-risk individuals

STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - MARCH 14: CT Governor Ned Lamont (D-CT) (C), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (R), speak with a volunteer at a community vaccination clinic on March 14, 2021 in Stamford, Connecticut. The non-profit Building One Community organized the event to administer the first dose of the Moderna vaccine to more than 350 people from the immigrant and undocumented communities. The vaccines were supplied by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Vaccine recipients are due to return in April for their second dose. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

As Connecticut gears up for universal adult vaccine eligibility starting later this week, details are expected Monday on how the state will speed up access for those with certain medical conditions.

When Gov. Ned Lamont first announced that he would move up eligibility for 1.3 million residents to early April, he said those with high-risk medical conditions would get accelerated access. But with vaccines available to all adults starting Thursday, it remains unclear how these individuals will get priority.

While providers have been working on how to address this, Lamont said last week that he anticipated releasing more details on Monday. Lamont’s Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said previously that for some this may mean dedicated clinics.

When eligibility expands Thursday, it will be the largest to date, but state officials expect the number of people rushing out for a vaccine to be about half the number of residents in that age group.

“As always, we’ll have to ask people to be a little patient at the beginning of a new phase; we won’t have 600,000 appointments available day one,” Geballe said.

The new date for universal eligibility comes as the state’s vaccine allocation is expected to swell to 200,000 first doses a week.

“With 200,000 doses coming in a week you can do the math and kind of understand quickly that we’ll be in a position in a relatively short period of time – probably before the end of April – where everyone in the state who wants to get a vaccine will have the ability to get one,” Geballe said.

So far most states have plans to open vaccine eligibility to everyone by May 1, with the noted exception of New York and Arkansas, The New York Times reported.

Connecticut’s plan beats the deadline in President Joseph Biden’s directive that all states, U.S. territories and tribal nations should make the vaccine available to all adults by May 1. The state has consistently ranked among the highest for the number of shots it has put in people’s arms when adjusted for population.

By Thursday, Connecticut had administered 1.1 million first doses of the vaccine, and a total of 619,000 people were fully vaccinated.

As the state opens shots up to everyone, the governor said the state and vaccines providers were working together to get fast access for those with high-risk medical conditions.

On Thursday, Lamont said Geballe has had exhaustive conversations with the leaders of the state’s hospitals on how they can prioritize those people.

“We’re going to roll out some of their best recommendations on Monday,” he said.

Geballe said the state is planning “dedicated clinics” for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the Department of Social Services.

“We’re working in collaboration to identify the width of the at-risk groups and how we’ll prioritize them,” said Kathy Silard, president and CEO of Stamford Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a dozen conditions that put people at risk of “severe illness” or death from the novel coronavirus. The list of conditions includes heart conditions, cancer and Down Syndrome.

The governor drew criticism from both advocates for people with disabilities and essential workers after he announced the state would continue opening the vaccine on the basis of age only.

By focusing vaccination efforts by age group, Lamont and his administration moved away from federal guidance that prioritized those with high-risk medical conditions.

State officials said that it would be difficult to narrow the scope of conditions that qualified. From there, it would be hard for providers confirm that someone had a condition. Defending their decision, state officials said an age-based approach would be streamline the rollout.

At the time the decision was announced in late February, young people with conditions that put them at high risk would have had to wait until May 3 to register for a shot. But the timeline was moved up, first to April 5 and then to April 1.

Thursday’s new eligibility will also make the vaccines available to minors. Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for people younger than 18. The vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are only approved for people age 18 and older.

“The good news is we are getting a lot more Pfizer,” Geballe said.

He said a filter will be added to the state’s vaccine finder on its website so 16 and 17-year-old can look for a clinics serving the Pfizer vaccine. He said it is likely those teens will need a parent or guardian with them.

But, given that the risks are not as great for younger people, Geballe suggested they wait several days before looking to book appointments.

Connecticut Media Group