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Connecticut opens vaccinations to people 55 years and older

March 2, 2021 GMT

More than 500,000 Connecticut residents who are between 55 and 64 years old became eligible Monday for COVID-19 vaccinations, but Gov. Ned Lamont warned it could take more than three weeks for the majority of those people to get their first shot.

“We don’t have that many vaccines we’re getting on a weekly basis,” he said, urging residents to be patient as shipments continue to be delivered to the state from the federal government. “If we had followed the CDC guidelines, it would have been 1.8 million people and you would have been going out months.”

Most of the slots, Lamont said, filled up quickly within a few hours on Monday. But he said additional appointments will become available during the week as the state receives more vaccine. About 156,000 first doses are expected to be administered this week.

Some people who managed to get an appointment reported getting dates well beyond the next three weeks, such as late April, May and even June. Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said there will be opportunities to get earlier vaccinations, as more supply comes in.

“There are tens of thousands of doses that our providers are just finding out about right now in the last 24 hours that they’re going to set up appointments for over the next couple of weeks,” said Geballe. “The message, is there’s going to be a lot more appointments coming online in the next several days and weeks between now and March, 22. So there’s probably going to be opportunities to improve your slot as well if you want to.”

He stressed that people who find a new appointment date they prefer should cancel the old one so there’s opportunity for someone else to take that slot. To ease the burden on the online and telephone appointment systems, Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford suggested people wait a few days before seeking an appointment if they’re able to do so.

A week ago, Lamont suddenly announced the state would continue with a mostly age-based rollout to avoid confusion and delays. Originally, the state planned to allow younger people with preexisting conditions and essential workers to sign up, but there were questions about which conditions and jobs to include.

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Some criticized Lamont’s decision, including from unions that represent janitors, supermarket workers, security officers and others. Also, disability rights advocates recently filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, calling on the agency to immediately investigate the new age-based policy, arguing it “constitutes disability discrimination in violation of federal law.”

The Lamont administration has made the argument that 96% of the COVID-associated deaths in Connecticut involved people over age 55.

“Simplicity means equity and it’s also in the interest of public health,” the governor said on Monday. “And by categorizing by age, that prioritizes public health.”

Under Lamont’s plan, the next group of people, an estimated 400,000 people age 45-54, will be eligible to make appointments on March 22. They’ll be followed by an estimated 400,000 people age 35-44 years on April 12 and then everyone else 34 years and younger on May 3.

The only exception to Lamont’s revised rollout has been for pre-K-12 school staff — including teachers, bus drivers, custodial staff and others — as well as professional childcare providers. That group, which is estimated to include about 160,000 people, will be getting their shots throughout March at dedicated clinics set up for them throughout the month, according to the administration. Some some districts have set up special hotlines for staff to make vaccination appointments and clinics are planned for this week.

Lamont said there are no plans at this point to create special clinics for other groups of people, such as those with underlying health issues.

Meanwhile, Lamont said Connecticut still expects this week to receive about 30,000 doses of the newly approved vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

“And remember, when you get 30,000 doses of J&J, that’s equivalent of two doses of Pfizer and Moderna (vaccines),” Lamont said. “So it’s going to make a big difference and we’ll start getting those shots in the arm this week.”

Lamont said later in the day that Connecticut expected to receive about 39,000 doses from Johnson & Johnson. There are no plans to target those doses to a specific group, as some states are doing, however Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said some health care providers have said they expect to use some doses for clinics set up for teachers and school staff.