Connecticut residents age 16 and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on April 1, state officials said Thursday.
The new eligibility date is four days earlier than the previously announced date of April 5. Officials accelerated the timeline because they expect a large influx of vaccine by the end of March, particularly the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
At his Thursday press conference, Gov. Ned Lamont said the state will get 200,000 doses next week, a big increase, and that they expect that number to grow in April. President Joe Biden said Thursday that vaccine distribution will be ramped up to try and reach a new goal of 2 million vaccination nationwide in his first 100 days in office.
Lamont said more vaccine means people can get vaccinated, so the state decided to move up the timeline slightly for the final age group.
“We originally thought April 5 would be a day that we could open the door, open the aperture for everybody regardless of age, to be able to make their appointment for a vaccine. We’re going to move that forward a few days to April 1,” Lamont said.
State officials estimate there are about 600,000 people in the 16- to 44-year-old age group eligible to be vaccinated.
This is the third time the state has accelerated its vaccine rollout. Gov. Ned Lamont announced last week that eligibility for people 45 to 54 would be open on March 19, three days ahead of the previous schedule. The state had previously set targets of April 12 for residents 35 to 44 and May 3 for those 16 to 34.
The accelerated time frame comes as the state’s COVID case rates start to slowly tick up again.
The number of positive cases and hospitalizations has increased recently, as the state’s weekly average positivity rate has popped back over 4%, although on Thursday the percentage was about 3.9%.
The cases are nowhere near levels from January and early February, when the state was in the midst of a long second wave, but Connecticut — like most of the Northeast — has seen a recent bump in cases.
“You know it’s not my No. 1 metric — I care more about hospitalizations — but I do care about the fact that we’ve gone from 2.2% seven-day average, say, two, three weeks ago, to about 3.7 today, so it’s up by 50-60%,” Lamont said.
“I see that our friends in New Jersey are up at close to 8% in a seven-day moving average, and the greater Northeast in general is, I’m afraid, leading the country in many ways in terms of infections.”
The increase is likely because of the variants that are now steadily becoming the dominant strain of the virus. The cases of the B.1.1.7 strain that originated in Britain have steadily gone up across the state for the past month. Two weeks ago, there were 228 confirmed cases, and this week, there were 379.
Data released by the Yale School of Public Health on Thursday also shows that the B.1.526 variant, which originated in New York, is also growing steadily in the state.
As of Thursday, more than 1.1 million people have received their first dose of a vaccine in Connecticut, and 619,000 have been vaccinated completely.
Overall, about 80% of people over 75 have now been vaccinated, and about 58 percent of those between 55 and 64 age group. About 28% of the 45-54 age group has received at least a first dose, although Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said they expect that number to increase as more vaccine becomes available.
The state continues to lag behind in vaccinating its minority populations, particularly in its largest cities, such as Bridgeport, Hartford and Waterbury — all of which are near the bottom for the percentage of residents that have been vaccinated.
The state set a target for its vaccinators to getting 25% of their doses into residents that live in 50 ZIP codes identified as socially vulnerable by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Geballe said the state reached about 24% of residents in those areas last week and moved the target to 26%.
Lamont announced Thursday the state is going to spend about $58 million to increase access to vaccines in cities. It includes $28 million in grants to local health departments, $24 million for “outreach and assistance” and $6 million for technical support.
“That starts with telephoning and door to door canvassing, using trusted advocates and using ministers at the churches, doing everything we can to make it easier to bring the vaccine to you, bring the mobile vans to you,” Lamont said. “And so you’re going to see a ramped-up effort over the course of the next few weeks in order to do that.”