Benjamin Koomson, patient care associate at Hartford HealthCare, receives the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Yehyun Kim /
The Reservoir nursing home in West Hartford was among the first long-term care facilities in Connecticut to begin vaccinating its residents against coronavirus. AP Photo

After front-line health care workers and nursing home residents receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a broader class of “essential workers” – including teachers, first responders, correction employees and postal staff – should be next in line for the shot, along with people 75 and older, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended.

Connecticut last week began vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents. A shipment of roughly 31,000 immunizations from Pfizer was divided among the state’s hospitals and some long-term care facilities. Following federal approval of the Moderna vaccine on Friday, Connecticut is expected to get 63,300 doses of that immunization this week, in addition to another 24,375 doses from Pfizer.

Toggle between the grey buttons to compare estimated first doses with those allocated to Connecticut. Hover for precise values. Data updated weekly. Source: Health and Human Services. Credit: Kasturi Pananjady

The federal advisory group, composed of medical workers and other health experts, suggested that about 30 million “frontline essential workers,” such as teachers and day care staff, firefighters, police, public transit employees, postal workers, grocery store employees and correction staff, be prioritized next for the vaccine. Manufacturing and food/agriculture workers were also included in that category, known as Phase 1b, along with 21 million people who are age 75 and older. Vaccinations for that group are expected to begin in January.

Once those people receive the shots, a cohort of other “essential workers” should be next in a phase known as 1c, the advisory panel recommended. That phase, which could start as early as February, would include about 57 million workers in transportation, finance, media, legal, housing, information technology, energy and other fields. About 32 million people ages 65 to 74 would also be part of this group.

Panel discussing when to vaccinate the incarcerated

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, which earlier this month said incarcerated people would be inoculated during phase 1b, on Monday said they were now awaiting guidance from the state’s vaccine advisory panel on the issue. A subcommittee of that group urged the state Monday to include the prison population in the next stage of the vaccine rollout, but the CDC advisory group was silent on the priority for incarcerated people.

“Our vaccine advisory group has not completed their work yet,” said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer. “So that’s one of the many difficult decisions they’ll have to weigh as we assess the prioritization.”

Asked whether he perceived the federal advisory group’s silence on the incarcerated population to be based on public health or politics, Lamont replied: “I hope to God the CDC is doing everything based upon public health.”

The Department of Correction announced Monday that a 69-year-old incarcerated man died from COVID-19 complications, the 12th to die since the start of the pandemic and the fifth since Nov. 18. The man had been transferred from the DOC’s medical isolation unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution to a hospital on Nov. 26.

Two hundred and seventy-one inmates now have the virus and are showing symptoms; 319 are asymptomatic, with clusters of cases at Osborn, York, MacDougall-Walker and Cheshire Correctional institutions. In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, the DOC said it is continuing its mass testing. Staff are tested each week and members of the incarcerated population are tested every other week.

Employers in phase 1b will be asked to upload a roster of their workers to a system that will then allow the employees to schedule a vaccine appointment.

“They can plug in their ZIP code, find vaccination sites that are nearby, see what times are available and schedule their appointment,” Geballe said.

A later phase, expected to begin in late May or early June in Connecticut, would include adults ages 18 to 64.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By Kasturi Pananjady

Federal officials expect to have enough doses to vaccinate about 100 million people by late February. As of Sunday, the CDC reported that 556,000 people had been immunized so far.

The advisory group’s suggestions are not considered mandates; the panel stressed that each state should tailor the recommendations to the needs of its residents.

Connecticut leaders so far have kept their priorities in line with federal guidance. Over the weekend, another subcommittee of the state’s vaccine advisory panel urged officials here to authorize use of the Moderna vaccine locally.

“We found that the process of developing, reviewing, and authorizing the Moderna vaccine was rigorous, transparent and scientifically sound, mirroring our principal finding for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,” members of the subcommittee wrote in a memo to the state’s acting public health commissioner, Deidre Gifford. “The subcommittee once again has full confidence in the integrity of the [Food and Drug Administration] review and authorization process for this vaccine.”

Lamont announced Monday morning that he has directed the Department of Public Health to add Moderna’s shot to the state’s ongoing vaccination program. The first doses of the Moderna immunization arrived at Hartford Hospital Monday morning.

“This is another important step forward in getting this vaccine to as many people in our state so that we can better manage this disease and prevent its spread,” Lamont said. “We’re doing everything we can to get as many doses to the people who need it most, and over the coming days and weeks, we expect our supply to significantly grow.”

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

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