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Making sense of Lamont's vaccine shift

With each person vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus the state incrementally reduces the spread of the disease and decreases the risk to all of us. Adding to the urgency to contain the virus and reach herd immunity as soon as possible is the circulation of catchier and potentially deadlier mutations.

If that is the priority — and it must be — then Governor Ned Lamont should not be faulted for changing Connecticut’s approach to vaccine distribution if he is convinced it will get more people vaccinated quicker.

On Monday, the governor made his surprise announcement. The state, he said, would not move ahead with its previously stated plan to next prioritize people in some essential jobs, such as grocery store workers, and those with medical conditions that placed them in greater danger if exposed to the coronavirus.

Instead, the administration announced, it was shifting to a simple age-based approach. Vaccine eligibility, which had been open to residents 65 and older, will be open to those 55 and older beginning March 1. Those 45 and older can schedule an appointment March 22, those 35 and older on April 12, and adults 34 and younger, May 3.

In taking this approach, rather than targeting at-risk groups, the administration is straying from the recommendations of the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and Lamont’s own vaccine advisory group.

Instead, Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe told us, the administration listened to the health districts, hospital personnel and others working in the field to distribute the vaccine. What the administration learned is that adding layers of complexity — such as making vaccine access contingent on occupation and targeted medical issues — would slow the distribution and waste resources on verifying eligibility rather than on scheduling and providing vaccinations.

Geballe said the administration also looked at other states and nations and found that drawing fine lines over who was eligible and who was not caused delays.

Further, the administration feared the originally planned distribution approach would only widen a troubling gap. People in white, more affluent suburban areas have been accessing the vaccines at nearly double the rate of those in urban, lower income, communities of color. When distribution depends on providing proof of job eligibility or getting a note from a doctor, those with greater technology and a family physician — those with greater means — will have an advantage, Geballe said.

Requiring only proof of age levels the playing field, he added. That makes sense.

All that being said, those who were expecting to come next have a right to be angry and feel cheated. Grocery store workers have risked their health from the start of this pandemic to assure people were fed. Other essential workers have likewise acted heroically. Having their expectant access to the vaccine jerked away is a punch in the gut.

Those with co-morbidities have lived in fear that a COVID infection could be a death sentence. Now those in that group who are under 55 are seeing their access to the safety of a vaccination delayed by weeks or months. It has to be discouraging.

Yet the easiest, most popular path for Lamont would have been to stick to the plan. We trust that the only reason he is not doing so is because he is convinced this new approach is the better way. Whether further developments prove Lamont right or wrong, making tough decisions — and sometimes unpopular ones — is called leadership.

And what of the one exception the governor is making to his age-oriented approach; teachers and other adults in our school systems? It is the right call, one that we have urged him to make. Getting students back in school regularly must be a high priority and vaccinating teachers and support staff helps the state get to that goal faster.

Whatever the approach, Connecticut must do a better job of making the vaccine available to lower socio-economic and minority groups.

Geballe said the administration is stepping up the effort in that regard, turning to churches, libraries, senior citizen centers and other institutions in targeted communities to get the word and the vaccine out. Reverse 9-1-1 has been used, he said, calling households to explain how the vaccine can be accessed.

The war against COVID-19 continues. Tough choices have to be made in war, including how to best allocate limited resources. But if victory is achieved it will be a shared victory and the sacrifices that contributed to that triumph should not be forgotten.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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