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People with health issues, vital workers on deck for vaccine

February 16, 2021 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Essential workers, including teachers, as well as people with underlying medical conditions should learn in about 10 days when they can begin making their COVID-19 vaccination appointments, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday.

The state is finalizing plans for the next stage of Phase 1b as vaccinations continue for people 65 years and older. So far, 66% of people 75 years and older and 23% of people 65 to 75 have gotten at least one dose.

“The hospitals are going to be thinking about calling out their patients who have a particular need, get them in, get them prioritized in terms of getting vaccinated,” the Democrat said during a briefing with reporters.

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Neighboring New York on Sunday allowed millions of its residents with health conditions that leave them at high risk of illness from COVID-19 to begin signing up for appointments at state-run vaccination sites. However, the lack of vaccine supply has meant some people driving hours to get the vaccine because they can’t find appointments closer to home through a state website.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said Connecticut has been trying to phase in groups of people to avoid such problems as much as possible.

“Some other states have thrown a lot more people into the eligibility pile at once. But there’s a big difference between being eligible and actually having appointments to be able to get vaccine. So what we’ve tried to do is really prioritize and phase it in,” he said. “Folks with preexisting conditions, we agree, critically important to prioritize. We’re really looking forward to opening up access to that very soon.”

State officials are expected to rely heavily on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for identifying essential workers and underlying health conditions that put people at risk.

As of Tuesday, nearly 474,000 first doses and more than 218,000 second doses have been administered. On Friday, 28,000 shots were given, the largest one-day number so far. Meanwhile, the governor said the state anticipates it will receive about 22% more doses from the federal government next week. However, he warned that stormy weather could affect the state’s shipment.

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Meanwhile, the number of confirmed or probable COVID cases in Connecticut increased by 580 since Monday while the number of people hospitalized decreased by 12 to 606, the lowest number in months. Deaths grew by two to 7,449.

In other coronavirus-related news:

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VENUE RESTRICTIONS

Lamont said Tuesday his administration is considering further easing of COVID restrictions and expanding the capacity of private, social, and recreational events at commercial venues. Such a change could take place on March 19, assuming the state’s infection numbers are good.

Indoor capacity at such venues would be at 50%, capped at 100 people, while capacity would be limited outdoors to up to 200 people.

“Event planners tell us you need time to plan. So that’s why we’re giving you a month to plan this,” Lamont said. “And I know you want some guarantees (so) we can have a big wedding in July. I can’t give you any guarantees, but right now the trends are good.”

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GUBERNATORIAL VACCINATION

Lamont on Tuesday received his first COVID-19 vaccination shot Tuesday. The 67-year-old became eligible for the vaccine under the state’s rules last week, when vaccinations opened up to people 65 and older. He received his first shot at The First Cathedral church in Bloomfield.

“That’s easy. Nothing to be afraid of,” Lamont said after getting the shot. His wife, Annie, isn’t eligible to be vaccinated yet, as she turns 65 later this year.

Later in the day, Lamont told reporters he felt no ill effects from the shot.

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MINORITY OUTREACH

Before getting his first vaccine dose, Lamont on Tuesday joined with Black leaders to urge people of color to get vaccinated, as data show inoculation rates among minorities are much lower than those of whites.

He appeared at a news conference with Black political, religious and medical community leaders who tried to reassure people that the vaccine is safe and pleaded with them to get shots, amid skepticism of the vaccine and a long-held distrust in the medical community by many Black and Latino residents.

That distrust in the government and the medical community is often linked to the Tuskegee experiment, in which Black men in Alabama were left untreated for syphilis as part of a study that ran from the 1930s into the ’70s.

“In order for us to reach population immunity, we need to have about 75% of the population to get vaccinations. They cannot do it without people of color,” state Chief Justice Richard Robinson said. “There are reasons for African Americans to distrust, but there are also reasons for African Americans to trust.”

Robinson noted that a Black scientist, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, helped develop the Moderna vaccine.

State Treasurer Shawn Wooden said his family had a large gathering on Zoom during Thanksgiving, and he was shocked when only a few of them raised their hands to indicate they were willing to take the vaccine.

“It is the health care system that has not been equitable, that’s not been just,” the Democratic treasurer said. “There is a reason why we don’t trust the system. But that is not the reason why we shirk our responsibility now as leaders to stand up with what we know about this vaccine, about how safe it is, about the studies, about the results.”

Lamont said the state is stepping up its efforts to get minorities vaccinated and bridge the racial divide, including working with Black churches and sending dozens of mobile vaccination teams into underserved communities.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of state Treasurer Shawn Wooden’s last name in the first reference.