SHORELINE — Gov. Ned Lamont’s new COVID vaccination plan has been met with mixed reactions with some cheering the prioritizing of teachers and others criticizing the decision to leave behind frontline essential workers and those with underlying medical conditions.
Lamont announced Monday the state will focus on age groups and teachers, shifting the priority away from essential workers and those with preexisting conditions — who believed they were the next in line to be vaccinated.
People age 55 to 64 will next be eligible to receive the vaccine as of March 1. The state plans to make an exception for teachers and child care professionals, who will also be eligible to receive the vaccine next month.
The plan was met with mixed reactions on the shoreline.
A local first responder has serious concerns, while local town officials are quickly trying to figure out how to adapt to the new plan.
Meanwhile, some frontline workers are upset about being moved further down the line, while educators are pleased.
“I’m not happy about the delay — at all,” said Kathy Kessler, lead window clerk at Branford Post Office.
“We’ve been in the trenches since the beginning, since March, from the days when they thought it could be living on cardboard and we were surrounded by cardboard. We’ve had to deal with everything — customers who refuse to wear masks, the insane crush of the holidays, and just the stress and exhaustion from the constant threat of the virus, and we still come in everyday. You can’t work from home if you work for the Postal Service.”
“We were promised that we would get the vaccine in late December. Now it’s almost March. Just give us the shot.”
For Guilford’s Jackie Peters, it was disappointing to learn that essential workers, like herself, will not be prioritized. As an employee of a local supermarket, she has been working throughout the pandemic.
“We haven’t had the ability to work from home,” she said. “We’re been working more hours — we’re seeing a lot of people on a daily basis.
“I think pretty much every grocery store you go into is busier than ever,” she added. “We’ve been in the thick of it from day one.”
Peters was among those who criticized the governor for changing course.
“I don’t think he should be picking and choosing who’s essential and changing those decisions on a daily basis,” she said.
“Shame on him for doing that,” she added.
One Old Saybrook grocery worker, who did not want to be identified, has seen the risks firsthand in her job serving the public.
“We have had people who have gotten sick,” the woman said. “I will continue to be patient, but I’m anxious. Teachers should have been considered the same time as we were.”
Educators were cheered by the news that separate clinics will be set up for them to be vaccinated starting next week.
“I’m pleased with this development,” said Erica Forti, superintendent of East Haven schools.
“I regard the educators and staff in my district as essential workers. They’ve been on the frontlines since late August. The employee-wide vaccinations will help immeasurably in stabilizing staffing in the classroom environment and keeping our students learning while keeping everyone safe.”
Branford resident Marta Musial, a fourth-grade teacher at New Haven’s Henry A. Conte West Hill Magnet School, said she was remote before going back to the classroom on Jan. 19.
“So, originally, when we were coming back to school, we were under the impression that we were allowed to get the vaccine early January, February,” the 31-year-old teacher said.
“Then they decided to change it,” she added.
“Coming to back to school is hard because you’re around a lot more people and we’ve been used to being remote,” she added. “It just adds an extra layer of anxiety — protecting our health and who we’re allowed to see beyond school, in our personal lives. It’s just a huge, huge relief that we’re going to get this vaccine now.”
This resonates with Madison public schools art teacher Carissa Connell.
With four children, ranging in age from 4 to 15 years old, 70-year-old in-laws who babysit and a husband in health care, it has been a stressful year for the Durham resident.
“I think it will feel like a relief,” Connell said. “I won’t have to worry quite so much whether or not I’m going to infect somebody.”
Tracey Lamothe, director of instruction for OLM Preparatory Academy in Madison, falls into two of the groups that will be next in line to be vaccinated — ages 55 and over, and educators who are involved directly with students.
“I think it’s a good balance, and they are recognizing that there are lots of people who are the priority right now, by setting clinics aside for teachers which will help reduce the numbers of people seeking vaccines in general categories rather than creating one massive surge,” she said.
For one shoreline first selectman, the issue is supply — not so much the order in which people get the vaccine.
“As with each rollout, the struggle is supply, supply, supply,” Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove said. “I’ll be meeting with my team this week to evaluate the situation.”
Cosgrove said every time another cohort opens up, “We wonder if the supply will meet the demand. We have to see how it rolls out and where the supply is coming from.”
He added that they still have people to get through the vaccination process and this makes it more difficult for those waiting. “The senior center is working to help get people registered,” he said.
Guilford First Selectman Matt Hoey was not surprised with the “mid-course correction.”
“Clearly, the mortality tables say we should continue with the age groups,” he said.
However, he was disappointed that the town employees “that work with the public on day-to-day basis” have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
In Old Saybrook, all members of the fire department, police department and emergency medical workers have been vaccinated, according to Max Sabrin, spokesman for the Old Saybrook Fire Department.
Sabrin said he is most concerned about moving folks with preexisting conditions further back in line.
“Those are the people that get in trouble,” Sabrin said, noting that conditions such as obesity, diabetes, COPD and those undergoing chemotherapy are more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.
“Anyone that has underlying health conditions should be hot-lined to get the vaccine first. They are in the danger zone of getting into trouble.”
In announcing the shift Monday, Lamont’s office stressed that age remains one of the strongest factors contributing to COVID-related deaths with the population age 55 and older accounting for 96 percent of fatalities statewide. Officials also acknowledged this plan simplifies the process as they focus on equitable vaccine distribution.
Old Saybrook Police Chief Michael Spera is pleased the state is moving forward with more people getting the vaccine.
“As we are on our quest for herd immunity, I think the more we bifurcate the herd, the longer that will take,” he said. “Allowing more people to become eligible for the vaccine is outstanding.”
Spera, who is also Old Saybrook’s emergency manager, said the town’s clinic recently surpassed 6,000 vaccinations. He said the only thing limiting them from vaccinating more people is the supply of vaccines.
“If we received more vaccines, we could easily go to a five- to seven-day operation and vaccinate as many people as we had vaccines for,” he said.
Spera said he thinks the state is on the fast track, and said it’s important for everyone to remain patient.
“As long as we’re moving forward, and we’re getting more people to become eligible to get vaccinated, I think that we will rapidly move through the upcoming phases,” he said. “I think that having a plan on how we’re rolling it out will give everyone an idea of about when they will be eligible to receive the vaccine. I think that’s positive.”
Joshua LaBella, Sally Bahner, Ann Gamble, Sarah Page Kyrcz and Lisa Reisman contributed to this story.