As Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday the state plans to expand the group of people who will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the next round, his administration also emphasized that residents need to remain patient.
“I realize that people want details on ‘when will I be next?’ and again, I’m going to use that word patience,” said Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health.
Connecticut residents ages 75 and over can now register for their COVID vaccine online, with the state expected to expand those eligible for vaccinations in Phase 1B, which begins Monday.
“We know many people are excited to receive the vaccine and the promise of the future that comes with it, but we are limited in our ability to distribute them purely based on the amount we receive from the federal government,” Lamont said in a statement Thursday. “We are hopeful we will see increased allocations in the coming weeks and months, which will lead to even more light at the end of the tunnel.”
Connecticut reported 968 new COVID cases Thursday, while the positivity rate dropped to 4.37 percent after soaring to nearly 11 percent on Tuesday.
“I’m having a hard time coming up with why these numbers are bouncing around so much,” Lamont said during his press briefing Thursday afternoon.
The state reported 30 fewer COVID hospitalizations on Thursday, dropping the statewide total to 1,118.
Seventeen more deaths brought the state’s death toll to 6,553.
All but three — Canaan, Cornwall and Warren — of the state’s 169 municipalities are considered red alert areas for the virus, based on the number of new cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days.
Lamont, who spoke to reporters via Zoom while recovering from hip replacement surgery, urged patience and asked residents to “respect the process” as the vaccine rolls out to more people.
“We understand this is a state that’s lost 6,500 people to COVID and we have the availability of a life-saving vaccine,” Lamont said.
Lamont said the state is expecting to receive 46,000 doses weekly from the federal government. He said an estimated 1.3 million state residents are eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1B.
On Thursday, residents age 75 and up were able to start registering online for vaccinations. Those without internet access can call the appointment assistance line at 877-918-2224.
Hundreds of people 75 and older have already been vaccinated this week after some health care providers began opening up the vaccine to seniors ahead of Thursday’s announcement, said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer.
In Fairfield, the town health department posted a survey where residents 75 and older could register to receive an email from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a login to the Vaccine Administration Management System.
But the governor acknowledged that group now encompasses close to half the population of the state, after weeks of resisting adding people to Phase 1B.
“We’ll see how many of them will actually want to take the vaccine,” the governor said. He pointed to a single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which he said could be approved in the next six weeks and could therefore increase the state’s vaccine supply.
He also said the state is expected to receive an extra 50,000 doses from the federal government, equivalent to about one week’s worth of doses at the current rate.
What’s less clear is when the state will announce who receives the vaccine after those ages 75 and older.
Lamont said he accepted the recommendations of the Allocation Subcommittee of the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group to expand Phase 1B to include residents between the ages of 65 and 74, as well as those between 16 and 64 who have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of the virus.
But the Lamont administration has not said how the various groups within 1B will be prioritized.
Gifford said decisions of who comes next would be balanced with risk of illness and death and “equity and health disparities.”
As demand for the vaccine wanes in those 75 and older, the state could then pivot to other groups in 1B, Gifford said, though she did not say definitively which group would come next.
“The governor’s direction to us has been no appointments left unfilled, no shots left ungiven,” she said.
Lamont said more should be known in the next three weeks as the state continues to vaccinate those 75 and up.
Gifford noted that her agency had only received the recommendations from the subcommittee this week.
Lamont’s office said Phase 1B includes about 1.3 million residents. Lamont’s office said the governor has requested the state Department of Public Health to begin the phase by prioritizing the vaccine for those who are 75 and older.
“As supply increases and a significant portion of individuals over 75 have received the vaccine, phase 1B will open up to include more of the eligible populations with a focus on addressing issues of equity and risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19,” the governor’s office said.
Other than those ages 75 and over, Phase 1B already included residents and staff of congregate settings and front-line essential workers.
As of Thursday, 171,035 doses of the vaccine had been administered in Connecticut. In total, 154,994 people have received their first dose and 16,041 people have received their second and final dose, according to the governor’s office.
The first wave of vaccines went to health care personnel, residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and medical first responders.
The state ranks fifth in the nation in the percentage of population that have been vaccinated, Lamont said.