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For those over 55, run on COVID-19 vaccinations begins

With more than 1 million Connecticut residents now vaccinated, tens of thousands of people 55 to 64 years of age began scheduling and receiving COVID-19 shots Monday as the state proceeded with its age-based rollout of the vaccine.

Phones and websites were busy and most available appointments were filled within a few hours, Gov. Ned Lamont said during a virtual news briefing at which he defended his approach to the effort, which differs from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that call for prioritizing those with underlying medical conditions and working in certain essential jobs.

“Age prioritizes public health,” Lamont said.

Roughly 500,000 people were eligible to begin pursuing some 130,000 vaccine doses Monday, ensuring that some would be unable to get appointments. Lamont said more vaccine and more appointments will become available each week and that Connecticut’s vaccine supply will be bolstered this week by more than 39,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine the CDC approved Sunday.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna varieties already in use, the J&J vaccine requires only one, not two, doses and does not have to be kept frozen.

Lamont said he was confident those 55 to 64 would be able to schedule vaccination appointments in the next three weeks. Told that some had been given appointments as late as April or May, he said they should plan on keeping them. If people are able to schedule earlier or more convenient appointments, they should be sure to cancel their original ones, Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said.

The governor reported that 627,788 first doses and 336,155 second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Connecticut, a total of 963,943 doses. He said the number doesn’t include vaccinations administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs or by federally recognized Indian tribes that receive vaccine allotments directly from the federal government, meaning the overall total is in excess of 1 million doses.

Connecticut ranks among the top five states in the nation in vaccine distribution. Among state residents 75 and older, 75% have been vaccinated, while 52% of those 65 to 74 have gotten a shot, Lamont said.

In addition to those 55 and older, prekindergarten-to-grade-12 school staff and professional child care providers were newly eligible for vaccinations this week. Previously, health care personnel, medical first responders and residents and staff of long-term care facilities and certain other congregate settings were eligible. Going forward, eligibility will extend to those 45 to 54 on March 22; to those 35 to 44, April 12; and those 16 to 34, May 3.

Connecticut’s streamlined rollout is designed to increase the speed with which the vaccine reaches those who are most likely to develop severe illness and die if they contract COVID-19 — namely, those who are older — and enable the state to better target underprivileged communities that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus disease, Lamont said.

While the vast majority of Connecticut’s 7,600 COVID-19 deaths have occurred among the 65-and-older population, those 55 to 64 are 20 times more likely than those in their 30s to suffer complications, require hospitalization and die if they contract the disease, he said.

Working with federally funded health centers, hospitals, pharmacies and local health departments, Connecticut officials will “reach out aggressively” while allocating 25% of the state’s vaccine allotment to communities in the 50 most disadvantaged ZIP codes based on poverty levels, housing density and the prevalence of multigenerational housing, Lamont said.

Lamont reported that 2,680 new COVID-19 cases had been detected in the state since Friday, a period in which results of 114,157 new tests had been gathered, for a positivity rate of 2.35%. Hospitalizations had fallen by 34 to 417, and 29 additional deaths associated with the disease had pushed the toll since the pandemic began to 7,651.

In New London County, hospitalizations totaled 29.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, which reported it had 13 COVID-19 patients and Westerly Hospital four, announced Monday it was modifying its patient visitation guidelines to allow one visitor per patient per day for adults over the age of 18. Visiting hours are 1 to 8 p.m.

L+M cited a downward trend in hospital admissions, positivity rates and the number of asymptomatic patients as well as the vaccination of a majority of its health care workers in deciding to ease restrictions that had been in place since the fall.

Patients in the Emergency Department at L+M and at Pequot Health Center in Groton also may be accompanied by one person. Visitor restrictions will remain in place at L+M’s outpatient ambulatory facilities. Exceptions will be made in the case of patients who require the presence of a visitor for communication, mobility or other needs. Visitors will not be allowed to enter the hospital if they exhibit any of the following symptoms: fever, chills, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Facemasks will be provided to all patients and visitors if they are wearing non-medical masks. Only medical-type paper masks are acceptable for single masking. Additional masks may be worn over the patient's or visitor’s original mask. Those with a medical mask under a cloth mask will not require additional masking.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

 

Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to indicate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not have to be kept frozen.

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