Connecticut’s COVID vaccine eligibility expands Friday to those 45 and older as the state projects the supply to move closer to meeting demand.
State data shows Connecticut will balance a rush of roughly 200,000 newly eligible people against a weekly supply of around 130,000 to 140,000 first doses — the narrowest margin to date. But it remains unclear if this will translate to an easy vaccine appointment process.
“As we get these younger age groups, we’re able to do it faster, we’re getting a lot more vaccines, and also it does appear that there might be a slightly lower take-rate as well,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.
As Connecticut expands vaccine eligibility and lifts many COVID restrictions on Friday, the state has identified its first case of a variant originally found in Brazil.
Dr. Albert Ko, a Yale epidemiologist who co-chaired the governor’s reopening committee last spring, said Thursday the strain, known as P.1, was found in New Haven County.
“We know that these variants of concern — the U.K. variant, the South African variant and now the Brazilian variant — have been detected in this state,” he said. “These variants are more transmissible, and at least from what we know at this moment, the U.K. variant ... is actually more virulent, and can cause more risk of mortality and hospitalizations.”
In Europe, the variant has caused a “third wave” of lockdowns, he noted, including in Paris.
Besides the single case of the P.1 variant found in New Haven County, Connecticut has also identified 283 cases of B.1.1.7, the strain originally found in the U.K., and seven cases of B.1.351, the variant first found in South Africa.
Two other variants first detected in New York have also been found in Connecticut. One case of the B.1.427 variant has been identified here, along with three cases of the B.1.429 strain. Those variants are believed to be more transmissible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and could blunt treatments.
However, Connecticut officials hope speeding up the vaccination schedule will help protect residents more quickly.
Nearly 1 million people have received at least a first shot with 930,497 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines administered. A total of 500,528 people have received their second and final dose, while 36,208 have received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Around 33 percent of the state’s population over the age of 16 have received at least one dose, and 62 percent of those 55 and older.
Unlike previous groups that became eligible at midnight on the launch day, those 45 to 54 will not be able to register until 8 a.m. Friday, according to the state Department of Public Health.
About 477,000 people will become eligible as part of the next age bracket, according to Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer. But around 90,000 of that demographic have already been vaccinated. Along with hesitancy in getting the vaccine, he estimated about 200,000 people will get in line starting Friday.
“One of our most important goals in this vaccination program is we never want to see an appointment go unused,” Geballe said.
Through the week, Lamont and his administration have again urged patience.
“We are going to have plenty of vaccines over the course of the next month,” Lamont said.
When the state shifted to an age-based rollout last month as well as prioritized teachers, school workers and child care providers, officials anticipated about 365,000 people would immediately want to get vaccinated. At the time, however, a week’s supply of vaccine was about 40 percent of that number.
A log jam quickly ensued, and people complained they could not find appointments, or when they did schedule a shot, it was weeks out in April and May.
But Lamont and his administration assured people the process would and did smooth out as more appointments populated when supply came into the state. When the new group is eligible on Friday, state officials believe they will have worked through most of the teachers, school workers and child care providers, as well as about 50 percent of those age 55 to 64.
The key number for a transition to new eligibility is about 60 percent, state officials said, a figure that represents what they believe is the portion of people who want to immediately get vaccinated.
But though the supply numbers are strong compared to the amount of eager people awaiting a vaccine come Friday, state officials maintain that transitions can be difficult.
“As soon as it opens up, everyone runs through the door at the same time,” Lamont said.
Though these first few days are a problem, Lamont and his team believe that anyone age 45 to 54 who wants one will get an appointment in 17 days before the last step in the rollout: universal adult eligibility on April 5.
“We’d expect by April 5, about 50 percent of that 45 to 54 group are actually vaccinated with another 10 percent with appointments scheduled,” Geballe said.
State officials estimate the last group, anyone age 16 to 44, is about 625,000 people who haven’t already been vaccinated but want to get inoculated.
And in the coming weeks, state officials expect supply to continue to climb from more than 140,000 first doses next week and more than 170,000 first doses the following week. Lamont said this allows “us to be a little more aggressive.”
By the end of April or early May, state officials believe they will finally face the issue of having more vaccines than people who want them.
On Thursday, the state reported 1,156 new COVID cases and a daily positivity of 2.76 percent. There were 18 fewer hospitalizations, dropping the statewide total to 384.
Another 15 deaths brought the state’s official death toll to 7,822. Lamont noted on Thursday it had been exactly one year since the state’s first death.
But Lamont said he feels the state has “turned the corner” and hopes the easing of capacity restrictions on Friday will be permanent.
However, Lamont said if the variant “ends up catching on fire or if people come back from Miami and they bring an infectious strain with them, we’ll do what it takes in terms of putting public health first.”