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Connecticut Vaccine Advisers Favor Adding Younger Residents, Those With Preexisting Conditions

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are prepared to be administered to Hartford HealthCare employees, Dec. 14, 2020.

In a series of changes to initial guidelines, Trump administration officials announced Tuesday that states should vaccinate all residents 65 years and older sooner rather than later.

Federal health officials are also encouraging states to expand the next phase of vaccine distribution to all adults who have preexisting conditions that put them at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

Members of Connecticut’s COVID-19 vaccine advisory group allocation subcommittee voted during a Tuesday meeting to broadly adopt both changes in their phase 1B recommendations to Gov. Ned Lamont.

“I think that will cover those who are at the highest risk, will cover people who are vulnerable,” said Dr. Marwan Haddad, medical director of the Center for Key Populations at Community Health Center, “as well as sort of, I think, address the racial and ethnic minority concerns we’ve been talking about.”

The move could add an estimated 715,000 people to a phase that already includes residents 75 years and older, specific front-line essential workers, and staff and residents in congregate settings like prisons and homeless shelters.

Final committee recommendations must be approved by Lamont.

All the adjustments come shortly after the Trump administration, in a reversal of its original stance, announced that the federal government would release nearly all available vaccine doses allocated to each state to ramp up vaccination efforts.

Before, it had held back roughly half those doses to ensure there was a sufficient supply of required second doses each person must get to become completely immunized against COVID-19.

Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner for the state Department of Public Health, said Connecticut has so far received its weekly projected allocation of doses on time and in the quantity promised.

Officials are waiting for more information on what an increased vaccine supply would look like and how that could help vaccinate more people in Phase 1B more quickly, but Gifford said there are no guarantees at this point.

“We can’t predict with any kind of certainty right now, how many increased doses we will be seeing over the coming months,” she said.

More than 141,000 total doses have been administered into the arms of health care workers, long-term care residents and staff and others as of Monday, according to the governor’s office.

State officials estimate they will wrap up this priority group in late January and begin Phase 1B next week, starting with residents 75 years and older. The state plans to launch online and phone reservation systems for the next eligible groups of people.

Ray Sullivan, director of health for the Brookfield Health Department, supported lowering the age requirement to 65 and adding other vulnerable residents to Phase 1B, but not at the cost of preventing the state’s oldest residents from accessing the vaccines.

“They’re the least computer savvy, they’re at greater risk of death irrespective of ethnicity,” he said. “We need to continue to give the opportunity to the 75s and olders to jump on the bandwagon first and grab some of those early appointments.”

People with underlying or preexisting conditions account for a significant percentage of the overall population.

The Connecticut allocation subcommittee plans to keep eligibility under Phase 1B confined to residents who have at least one of 12 conditions that put someone at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The list, subject to change, includes a current cancer diagnosis, chronic kidney disease, Down Syndrome, immunocompromised as a result of a solid organ transplant, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, among others.

A second CDC list outlines 11 conditions that may cause increased risk of severe illness. Moderate to severe asthma, high blood pressure, HIV, neurologic conditions and Type 1 diabetes are on that list. As of right now, these residents are scheduled for Phase 1C, slated for later this spring.

Dr. Suzanne Lagarde, chief executive officer at Fair Haven Community Health Care, said the committee will need to have this prioritization in place while vaccine supply is still limited.

“We really need to try our best to single out those people who are truly at high risk,” she said.

As Phase 1B of vaccine distribution grows, Gifford urged residents anxiously waiting their turn to be patient.

“We will not be able to get everyone a vaccine the very first week of Phase 1b,” she said. “It’s on us to communicate and make sure everyone knows how to get an appointment and when it will be available.”

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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