Over the weekend, Governor Ned Lamont’s team started hearing a warning from COVID-19 vaccinators.
“This path we were headed down was just going to be impossibly complicated,” said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer.
The state had already moved away from CDC guidelines for group 1B by putting off frontline essential workers and moving up those 65 and older.
So, when it came time for group 1C which would have included people with underlying medical conditions, there were concerns over how claims would be validated.
“That’s all going to slow things down and probably going to make the equity challenge even worse,” said Geballe.
Nichelle Mullins is the president and CEO of Charter Oak Health Center, and a member of the state’s vaccine advisory committee.
“Is that a doctor’s note, is that some other form of documentation,” said Mullins.
She added that some didn’t want to be in the position to judge how valid a claim or doctor’s note would be. But the committee did suggest the governor follow the CDC guidelines.
“We felt like we would be able to potentially open up access to larger communities of color and individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness and or death from COVID-19 by including those categories in the phase 1B recommendations,” said Mullins.
She says the change is a surprise to patients of the federally qualified health center who were expecting to get vaccinated next in an underlying health condition allowance.
“There are a lot of people who are confused, who don’t understand why the eligibility changed, some people feel like they were lied to,” said Mullins.
She says they’re doing their best to explain the vaccines will be available as the age groups open up. Among those patiently waiting are people who are Black and have less of a fear of the vaccine and more of a desire to get it.
Mullins adds that Charter Oak Health Center has been a resource for people to learn more about the vaccines and make informed decisions for themselves.
“We have waiting lists of people who want the vaccine – Black and brown people who want the vaccine but they aren’t yet eligible to receive it,” said Mullins
The state says moving forward, they plan to get vaccines into areas that the CDC designates as high risk based on poverty, transportation and housing data. Those areas are down 10% compared to statewide vaccination rates.
Geballe says to improve rates there needs to be vaccines, available clinics and people who want to be vaccinated. He added vaccine hesitancy is decreasing but there is still work to be done.
“We do think every day that goes by more and more people get comfortable and confident that they do want to be vaccinated,” said Geballe. “So then it’s back on the access and doing everything we possibly can to provide really easy access for everyone.”
They're working with vaccine partners on a way to track progress in vaccination rates. Geballe says they'll support local efforts for vaccination and offer the resources needed if municipalities are falling behind.
New Haven is one of several cities hosting these types of pop-up clinics, with at least seven so far and one planned at Varick Memorial A.M.E. Church on Wednesday. The state will support more events like it around the state.
“We’ve been giving New Haven as many doses as they can handle to do pop up clinics, mobile clinics, to do senior housing complexes. And they’ve been doing a great job, as have a lot of other health departments around the state, a lot of our federally qualified health centers and a lot of the big hospital systems too,” said Gabelle.
From a statewide perspective, he says the vaccination process will be streamlined using the age-based approach. This week the state is expecting 90,000 first doses which is a 7% increase from last week.
“When you work backwards by age, you will reduce the risk of death in all racial and ethnic groups the most quickly regardless of where someone works, what their medical history is,” said Geballe.
Nearly 4,400 people over 80 years old have died from COVID-19 in Connecticut, and the number gets smaller among the younger demographics.
When it comes to comorbidities like those with cancer, Geballe says he understands people are disappointed but is confident this process will move faster than CDC groups.
“These tradeoffs are really, really hard, and we apricate that the people who would end up on the other side of them would be concerned,” said Geballe. “At the end of the day this is the fastest path to get the state vaccinated and reduce the risk of severe illness and death for all racial and ethnic groups.”