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Panel recommends vaccine for 65 years and up, among others

January 12, 2021 GMT

Members of the state’s vaccine advisory group agreed Tuesday to recommend Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont expand who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of distribution to include people 65 and older, as well as younger people with at least one health condition that puts them at greater risk for contracting the disease.

The new recommendations were made shortly after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the federal government will no longer hold back required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply. HHS is also recommending states immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale.

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Connecticut was already planning to allow people age 75 years and older to begin making appointments for vaccinations on Monday. These latest changes could mean hundreds of thousands of more people being added to Connecticut’s Phase 1B, the second phase of the state’s distribution plan.

“I think that this is the right direction, in my opinion, that the feds are advising and I think would be the right direction, with some degree of phasing, for the state of Connecticut as well,” said Dr. Reginald Eadie, president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England and co-chair of the vaccine advisory group.

Under the latest recommendations from the advisory group’s vaccine distribution subcommittee, the state Department of Public Health is also directed to come up with a phased-in distribution plan for this now larger group that is “based on risks of mortality, risk for severe illness” and that addresses issues of equity and the disparate impact of COVID-19 on certain communities, said Nichelle Mullins, the subcommittee co-chair and president and CEO of Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford.

Lamont voiced concern on Monday that expanding Phase 1B to more people could be counterproductive. It was a concern echoed by at least one member of the subcommittee, who worried people might get “false hope” of getting vaccinated quickly if the state doesn’t have enough doses.

“I think the size of the group should be looked at very carefully from the standpoint of vaccine availability and vaccine supply into Connecticut,” said Dr. Raymond Sullivan, director of health in Brookfield.

Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting state Department of Public Health commissioner, said it appears the latest news from Washington indicates the state could begin receiving much more vaccine, although it’s unclear exactly how much more.

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“We can’t predict with any kind of certainty right now how many doses, increased doses we will be seeing over the coming months,” she said. That’s why, Gifford added, it’s important the subcommittee has given Lamont and DPH “broad direction” on who the committee wants to see in this next phase of distribution.

“I think that that gives us the flexibility we need to scale up, based on the available doses while honoring the recommendations,” she said.

Connecticut has already distributed thousands of first doses, and some second doses, to people in Phase 1A, which includes residents of long-term care facilities, health care personnel and medical first responders. At a previous meeting, the subcommittee agreed to recommend that individuals 75 years and older, certain frontline workers and people living in congregate settings, such an inmates, receive doses in Phase 1B.

The number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Connecticut has grown by nearly 3,700 since Monday. According to data through Jan. 11 from Johns Hopkins University, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased in the state by 699.9, an increase of 35.4% over the past two weeks.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,154 hospitalizations, an increase of 12 since Monday. The number of COVID-associated deaths increased by 31 since Monday, to a total of 6,449.

In other coronavirus-related news in Connecticut:

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SCHOOL QUARANTINE POLICIES

A coalition of public education union members has called on the governor to provide a clear and uniform policy for how school districts across Connecticut should handle quarantines and paid leave requests. The group contends too many school districts are not following procedures established by health experts and are disregarding the state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona’s recommendation that educators’ requests to work remotely are accommodated.

“A statewide mandate is necessary because recent actions show that districts cannot be trusted to “do the right thing,” the group wrote.

The group is also calling for the public health provisions of Lamont’s previous COVID-19 executive orders to continue through the end of the current school year.