Patricia Srenaski, Emergency Management Program Manager at Hartford HealthCare, gives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a Hartford firefighter at the Connecticut Convention Center, Wednesday, January 13, 2021. HHC vaccinated several Hartford first responders to promote the vaccine. They are also vaccinating people who are 75 and older at the Convention Center by appointment. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org
Esther Schwartz, 92, of Cheshire, grimaces as she receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Hartford HealthCare pharmacist Momeezah Syed on the second day of the state’s Phase 1B vaccination rollout at the Connecticut Convention Center. “Its easy to get the shot, but I’m worried about what happens after” Schwartz said, referring to possible side effects. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org
Esther Schwartz, 92, of Cheshire, grimaces as she receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Hartford HealthCare pharmacist Momeezah Syed on the second day of the state’s Phase 1B vaccination rollout at the Connecticut Convention Center. “Its easy to get the shot, but I’m worried about what happens after” Schwartz said, referring to possible side effects. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that he has accepted recommendations from Connecticut’s vaccine advisory group to expand Phase 1B of the rollout to include about 715,000 more people – those ages 65 to 74 and those 16 to 64 with co-morbidities such as cancer or chronic kidney disease.

That’s in addition to another 652,000 people already approved for Phase 1B who live and work in congregate settings such as prisons and homeless shelters, “essential workers” like grocery store employees and teachers, and those 75 and older.

The state will announce a tiered approach prioritizing each population in that phase, beginning with people 75 and older. While Lamont said the vaccines will reach people in congregate settings in the coming weeks, he would not provide an exact timetable.

Health care teams will visit prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and other congregate facilities to inoculate people of all age groups at once. This will be done “in parallel” with the rest of the Phase 1B vaccine rollout, health officials said.

State leaders asked residents to be patient. With Connecticut only receiving about 46,000 doses of the vaccine each week, it could take months to get everyone in Phase 1B immunized, though Lamont said he is “hopeful” the state will receive increased shipments of the vaccine in the near future.

Despite a broader population in this phase, officials said they believe Connecticut is still on pace to vaccinate people who are not prioritized as highly – those 16 to 64 without underlying conditions or in higher risk jobs – during the summer and have a substantial number of the state’s residents inoculated by the fall.

Large scale vaccination centers planned at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, the XL Center in Hartford, and other locations across the state could open as early as next week. Lamont said he expects the Rentschler Field site to be active beginning Monday or Tuesday. Residents will be able to receive a vaccine, get a coronavirus test and if needed, get food assistance.

Once CVS and Walgreens complete their rounds of vaccinating residents and workers in nursing homes, those pharmacies will also open up locations for people in Phase 1B to be immunized.

Rick McNamara, 77, of Wethersfield, receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Convention Center. McNamara did not hesitate to get the vaccine. “I believe in the system and I believe in the vaccine,” he said. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

“The Connecticut Department of Public Health has worked diligently with our health care partners across the state to increase access to the vaccine, but I must continue to urge patience at this point in time,” Lamont said. “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. We are hopeful we will see increased allocations in the coming weeks and months.”

It’s unclear how President-elect Joseph Biden’s plan to improve the nation’s response to the pandemic, announced Thursday afternoon, will impact Connecticut. Biden announced Thursday he will propose a $1.9 trillion relief package that enhances the country’s vaccine program and provides aid to families and local governments. The plan includes $400 billion to confront the COVID-19 crisis through a beefed-up vaccine rollout, more testing and contact tracing, and expanded access to paid medical leave.

The proposal sets aside $50 billion for accelerated testing, $20 billion for a national vaccine program that partners with states, localities, tribes and territories, and $130 billion to facilitate the reopening of schools. The money for vaccines includes launching “community vaccination centers around the country and deploying mobile vaccination units to hard-to-reach areas,” the transition team said. The funds for schools can be used to modify spaces so students and teachers can distance themselves from one another, purchase protective equipment such as masks, ensure schools have access to nurses, and hire counselors to support students as they transition to the classroom, among other things.

“We can’t wait to slow the spread of this virus. And, we can’t fight this pandemic in fits and starts,” the transition team said. “We must ensure that those on the ground have what they need to get vaccinations into people’s arms.”

Seniors 75 and up go first

Seniors age 75 and older can now sign up to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

The state on Thursday launched its centralized website for vaccine information, with links to two health systems – UConn Health and Hartford HealthCare – that currently are scheduling appointments for people in that age group. Patients can sign up through their MyCharts account (those without an account can create one). Residents don’t need to have a relationship with the health systems to sign up.

Due to limited supplies of the vaccine, the state warned, it is expected to take weeks to provide a shot to everyone in that age group. Appointments are required – walk-ins will be turned away.

The state has also created a vaccine call center for people who want to schedule appointments by phone or ask questions. The number is 877-918-2224. The line will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and offer a call-back option when workers are busy assisting other callers.

UConn Health and Hartford HealthCare have also added phone lines for vaccine inquiries. Residents can reach UConn’s call center at 860-679-8888 and Hartford HealthCare’s help line at 860-972-4993.

Residents can also sign up through the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). A link to that portal can be found on the state’s centralized website: https://portal.ct.gov/coronavirus/COVID-19-vaccination—75-and-older

Patients are asked to use the online system or to call UConn or Hartford HealthCare rather than contacting their primary care physicians.

More locations for vaccine administration are expected to be added to the state’s website.

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Jenna CarlessoHealth Reporter

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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