A panel advising Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on who should next receive COVID-19 vaccinations agreed on Tuesday that staff and residents of congregate settings — including prisons, homeless shelters and group homes — should receive doses, as well as workers identified as essential.
But the group could not reach consensus on when to vaccinate other groups, including people under the age of 65 with underlying health risks, and how best to make sure racial minorities who've been disproportionately affected by the pandemic get the shot.
Lamont's COVID-19 vaccine allocation subcommittee is expected to meet again soon to hammer out the final details of Phase 1B and 1C vaccine distribution recommendations — a task that members acknowledged repeatedly during Tuesday's meeting is very difficult given the demand and need for the vaccine, coupled with its limited supply.
“This is a balancing act between protecting those that are most vulnerable and preventing the disease spread,” said Dr. Michael Carius, chair-elect of the American Board of Medical Specialties and an emergency room doctor at Bridgeport and Milford hospitals.
For two hours, the subcommittee members grappled with numerous weighty issues, including which workers should be considered front-line; whether studies prove front-line workers are actually transmitting the virus; whether the panel should be focusing on preventing spread and death or just preventing death; whether people 75 and over or 65 and over should be vaccinated next; and whether people with more than one medical condition should be prioritized.
They also struggled with how to accommodate so many competing interests, while ensuring those most at risk for severe COVID-19 infection and death, such as Black people, aren't pushed further down the list.
“I just want to ensure from a health equity perspective that as we put more people in the 1B, that we're not really starting to sort of phase out the most vulnerable, sort of trade off the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Marwan Haddad, medical director of the Center for Key Populations at the Community Health Center Inc. in Middletown.
Tuesday's meeting comes as the state is close to finishing up the first vaccinations for frontline health care workers and nursing home residents and staff under Phase 1. It may begin the first vaccinations in Phase 1B later in January, which could comprise about 800,000 individuals. Phase 1C vaccinations would soon follow.
Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state's acting public health director, said the state doesn't have a fixed schedule for when the next distribution phases will begin. She said it will be based on demand.
“As soon as we see appointment slots not filling, we will be able to begin planning and moving to the next phase,” she said.
State officials reported more than 2,300 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 since Monday. Also, there were 24 new COVID-associated deaths, for a total of 6,192.
In other coronavirus-related news in Connecticut:
VACCINE SHIPMENT MISTAKE
Eleven employees at a private school in New London received COVID-19 vaccinations after they were mistakenly identified as eligible for shots meant only for health care workers and those in nursing homes.
Mark Fader, the head of the Williams School, told The Day of New London he was notified late last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that his school had been classified by the state as part of a “critical infrastructure group," eligible for the first round of vaccine doses.
Fader said the school then followed protocols and provided a roster of Williams employees to the Vaccine Administration Management System, allowing the school's 53 employees to get on vaccination rolls.
The local health district contacted the school on Dec. 29 to tell officials that the initial notification had been a mistake.
Fader said the school immediately advised employees of the error and advised them to cancel any vaccination appointments. He said 11 staff members already had been vaccinated. Those employees will be allowed to get the second dose of the two-dose vaccination regimen, he said.
Maura Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health, said there have been very few cases of people receiving the vaccine “out of phase.”
OUTDOOR LEGISLATIVE SWEARING IN
For the first time in recent memory, Connecticut lawmakers will take the oath of office Wednesday outdoors.
Jim Tamburro, executive director of the Office of Legislative Management, said senators will be sworn in on one side of the state Capitol building in Hartford while members of the House of Representatives will take the oath on the opposite side. Podiums and chairs will be set up to make sure everyone is socially distanced, in addition to barriers that will keep the legislators separated from anticipated protesters.
“There are a number of protests scheduled to take place,” he said. “We obviously want to offer them the opportunity to protest. But we also want to make sure that the ceremonies go on without any problems and that we’re able to get through the day successfully.”
After the swearing in, legislative leaders are expected to give speeches and adopt rules inside their respective chambers to a limited number of colleagues. Most legislators will watch the proceedings from their offices, including a pre-recorded 12:30 p.m. address by the governor. House members can also vote from their offices.
Tamburro said his team began planning for opening day of the General Assembly about a month ago, speculating there could be a foot of snow on the ground or a blizzard.
“It looks like a nice day, so we're excited about that,” he said.