Connecticut will lower the threshold for COVID-19 inoculations on Thursday from age 75 to 65, expanding the availability of the vaccines to another 350,000 residents, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday.
About 56% of the 75-and-older population have received the first of the two recommended doses, and demand still exceeds supply. But Lamont and his staff said the current limit on eligibility was beginning to hamper the effective distribution.
The initial rush of older residents eager for the vaccine is waning, and a broader pool of potential recipients will minimize the waste of perishable vaccines while public-health officials continue outreach to those 75 and older.
“Now there’s a little bit more hesitancy, and I want to make sure that there are no vaccines left behind and then every vaccine is a shot in the arm,” Lamont said.
Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said as cities arrange for vaccinations at senior housing complexes, they have asked for flexibility on the age limitation so they can accommodate all residents, not just those 75 and older.
“It made a lot of sense, especially in some of the communities where we’re really trying to get to quickly,” Geballe said.
Beginning Thursday, anyone 65 or older can make an appointment for a vaccination. To find vaccination sites, go to https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/COVID-19-Vaccinations or call 877-918-2224, seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
While many residents have complained about the limitation of VAMS, the online vaccine appointment sign-up system, Geballe said the state continues to expand access to vaccinations. VAMS has no foreign language capacity, and it is not intuitive, he said.
Lamont said he hoped that the eligibility for vaccinations could be extended in March to essential frontline workers and individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 who have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID.
Connecticut reported 4,367 new infections among the 122,145 tests results returned since Friday, a positivity rate of 3.58%. More than 6 million tests for COVID have now been conducted in the state.
With another 68 deaths since Friday, the pandemic now is blamed for 7,282 deaths in Connecticut. But hospitalizations continued to fall as the second surge of cases recedes, a trend officials expect to continue as more residents are vaccinated.
Nearly 520,000 doses of COVID vaccines have been administered in Connecticut: 387,174 first doses and 129,907 second doses.
Lamont warned that opening appointments to 65-year-olds will increase wait times, and he asked for patience.
The 67-year-old governor said he now plans to be vaccinated.
By lowering the age threshold, the state still would be giving priority to an age cohort with a high number of COVID deaths and hospitalizations while reducing the racial disparity inherent in limiting vaccines to those 75 and above, a cohort that is both disproportionately white and vulnerable.
To increase access to vaccines in urban centers, Walmarts in Hartford, New Haven, North Windham, Norwalk, Torrington, Waterbury and West Haven are to offer vaccinations, but only by appointment — as is the case at other vaccination sites.
“So don’t just show up at one of those sites,” Geballe said. “You won’t get an appointment. You won’t get a vaccine.”
About 1,250 of the DOC’s 5,400 eligible employees have received the first vaccine dose, Karen Martucci, the agency’s director of external affairs, said Monday.
A vaccination clinic in partnership with Griffin Hospital ran for four days last week, one day shorter than planned, due to a snowstorm. The clinic will continue for three weeks at multiple locations, Martucci said.
In his confirmation hearing last month, Commissioner Designate Angel Quiros said less than half of staff surveyed said they would get the vaccine. Around 15% were undecided.
“We continue to focus on education for both employees and the inmate population to ensure that people feel confident that they are making an informed decision,” Martucci said.
Two-dozen incarcerated people 75 or older also received the vaccination last week. Three refused the shot.
Martucci said the DOC expects to receive vaccines this week to begin vaccinating the 208 incarcerated people between the ages of 65 and 74.