Connecticut now has administered the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to nearly half of all residents age 75 and older — a strong performance weakened by the uneven results in some of the state’s poorest cities, evidence of challenges ahead.
Data released Thursday by Gov. Ned Lamont show the second wave of infections, which claimed more than 2,500 lives in the state since Halloween, continues to wane. With 937 new infections detected in nearly 30,000 tests, the daily positivity rate was 3.14%.
“That’s pretty good, pretty good in the sense that it is a lower positivity rate than we’ve had since Halloween,” Lamont said. “I think 3.14 seemed a little scary on Halloween. But now it’s part of a trend line in the right direction.”
On Oct. 30, the state had recorded 71,207 infections and 4,616 deaths from the novel coronavirus since March. As of Thursday, the caseload has more than tripled to 257,941, and the death toll has risen to 7,185.
There were 28 new deaths Thursday, but hospitalizations fell by 37 to 837, down from nearly 1,100 two weeks ago. In the initial wave of cases, hospitalizations for COVID reached nearly 2,000.
Connecticut’s vaccination effort consistently has ranked among the top five of all states, based on the percentage of administered doses.
Its mass vaccination program is a hybrid, with a centralized online appointment system and regional vaccination centers, as well as efforts overseen by local and regional public health districts. The local efforts have varied.
“Not every department has wanted, for example, to be a vaccination partner. Many of them have — the majority — but not every single one,” said Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting commissioner of public health.
Some poorer urban communities have struggled: New Britain vaccinated 18% of its older population; Bridgeport, 24%; Waterbury, 25%, Hartford, 29% and New Haven, 38%. The state and cities are responding with greater outreach and availability, Lamont said.
“We’re making a big effort to make sure that we bring the vaccines to you,” said Lamont, who visited a clinic in Waterbury clinic at a magnet school on Wednesday. “They are catching up fast.”
Supply remains an issue. Two hospitals in Manchester and Vernon have suspended vaccinations.
Lamont said the state’s allocation of doses is increasing by 17% next week, and Pfizer is ramping up production of its vaccine. Everyone 75 and older should have access to the vaccine by mid-February, he said.
Information about vaccinations is available by calling the state’s vaccine access line at 877-918-2224 or online at ct.gov/covidvaccine.
Nearly 460,000 doses have been administered, with 358,000 first doses and 101,000 second doses.
In the next phase, anyone 65 or older will be eligible for vaccinations. After that, it will get more complicated, as priority will go to people in certain professions as well as those with health risk factors.
Connecticut is awaiting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding what risk factors should be prioritized. Unresolved is what level of proof will be required.
“Some states are not requiring any type of verification and are relying solely on self attestation. That has the benefit of simplicity,” Gifford said. “But it also obviously has some challenges in terms of verification.”
Aside from supply, the state also has had to convince some people of the vaccine’s safety. It was offered to every nursing home employee and resident in the initial rollout, but only 40% of workers accepted.
The state hasn’t reported overall vaccination numbers from nursing homes, but officials believe the utilization has risen to 50% to 60% of the state’s more than 25,000 nursing home employees.
Officials also have struggled with scheduling issues regarding the second doses.