Everything about the COVID-19 vaccination of Gov. Ned Lamont in a Black megachurch in Bloomfield on Tuesday was calculated to maximize its political and public-health impact — as well as protect Connecticut’s 67-year-old governor.
“Are you ready?” Patrice Marriott, a Trinity Health nurse, asked the governor before administering the Pfizer vaccine.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Lamont replied.
He’s been ready since Dec. 14, the day he watched and applauded as the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered to health care workers outside Hartford Hospital. For two months, the governor’s staff has mulled the right time and setting for his inoculation.
The public vaccination was meant to convey Lamont’s confidence in the vaccine yet a willingness to wait his turn. The setting in a Black church was an effort to address the hesitancy among African Americans towards the vaccine and underscore the administration’s efforts to minimize racial disparities in its availability.
“Hesitancy is real,” said Dr. Reginald Eadie, the Black physician and hospital chief executive who co-chaired the governor’s advisory group on vaccinations.
Governors, hospital executives and others with early access to the vaccines have weighed the benefit of demonstrating confidence in two vaccines rushed to market through emergency authorizations against the appearance of jumping the line.
Connecticut has followed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a state advisory group: The first doses went to health care workers and nursing home patients, followed by anyone 75 or older and, now, 65 or older.
“I wanted to lead by example,” Lamont said. “There are some people who are hesitant, no question about it. I was ready to take the vaccine ready to do it in public and to tell people I feel better for it and you will, too.”
While some governors were vaccinated as early as December, as were some members of Congress, Lamont delayed his vaccination until it was opened to anyone 65 or older, a decision that ultimately rested with his administration.
“There are some advantages to being a little older, I gotta say. My wife, Annie suffers from vaccine envy. She can’t quite sign up yet, but you can,” Lamont said, standing in a room where some of the 50 people signed up for Tuesday’s clinic waited. “I want you to take advantage of this.”
After spending the three-day holiday weekend at his home in Greenwich, Lamont traveled 90 miles north Tuesday to be publicly vaccinated at First Cathedral, a church with a predominantly African-American congregation of more than 7,000, a social media reach and a trusted pastor, Archbishop Leroy Bailey.
“We have said to our people on Sunday that they need to receive the vaccine, I have received it, and to put all of their trust and confidence in God, and I’m sure things will be OK,” said Bailey, who is in his 70s.
Non-white adults are more likely than white adults to be hesitant about the vaccines, according to most polling, and Black officials and physicians say the reluctance is most pronounced among African Americans.
Rep. Bobby Gibson, D-Bloomfield, said Bailey is a religious leader with influence beyond his congregation, and First Cathedral was the right place for the governor to be vaccinated, joining a Black clientele.
“He’s not a political person, but he’s a social person,” Gibson said of Bailey. “So as far as social justice and social issues, he speaks out, and he’s well respected. And so it was important to have it here.”
Other than Lamont, every speaker at a press conference before Lamont’s inoculation was Black: Eadie, Bailey, Gibson, Chief Justice Richard Robinson, Treasurer Shawn Wooden, the Rev. Boise Kimber and Mayor Suzette DeBeatham-Brown.
“I understand that some people are leery about doing it because of the history of African Americans and the medical profession,” Robinson said, noting the long-term Tuskegee study of Black men who went untreated for syphilis without their consent.
Wooden said he decided to play a role in promoting the safety and efficacy of the vaccine after seeing some many of his relatives express wariness in a Zoom call over Thanksgiving.
“Because we need to validate the experiences of our community, and the history of racism, we need to educate, and we need to put our money where our mouth is by taking that shot in our arm publicly,” Wooden said.
DeBeatham-Brown, who also is a minster, said the vaccine is something to be celebrated and embraced.
‘There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not a train. It’s the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “I’m so grateful that pastors, leaders of houses of worship, they’re going to help us on the frontlines to make sure that their members receive all the information necessary to make a good decision for them and their family.”
Everything was choreographed Tuesday, with one notable exception. The governor wore a long-sleeved dress shirt. To receive his shot high on his left arm, he had to strip to his v-neck T-shirt.
He showed no reaction as he was inoculated.
“Aw, you didn’t even feel it,” said Marriott, the vaccinator.
“That’s easy, nothing to be afraid of,” Lamont said. Pulling his shirt back on, he joked, “I feel better already.”
Lamont’s office helped arrange the pop-up clinic, which was conducted by Trinity Health of New England, the parent of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford and four others. Trinity uses both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but the governor’s office asked that he get the one from Pfizer, a company with a research facility in Connecticut.
Access to the vaccine remains a sensitive issue. On Twitter, Lamont was both complimented for waiting with his age group and criticized for not getting teachers and others vaccinated ahead of the 65-year-olds.
More than 7,400 deaths in Connecticut since March are attributed to COVID-19, with the vast majority in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Vaccinations soon will be opened to essential workers and persons with health conditions making them vulnerable to COVID.
A winter surge of cases has been waning in recent weeks, and Lamont said he believes the more than 600,000 vaccinations administered so far have played a role.
“It is working,” Lamont said. “But it only works If you get the vaccine when you have that opportunity. We’re going to make sure we do everything you can to make sure you get that opportunity.”