Connecticut resident 65 and over will be able to register this week for their COVID-19 vaccinations, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday.
Health care providers with open vaccine appointments can also begin filling them with residents who are 65 and older.
The governor said about half of the state’s 75-and-older population wanted to get the vaccine.
“Now there’s a little more hesitancy, and I want to make sure that there are no vaccines left behind, and that every vaccine is a shot in the arm,” Lamont said.
Around 56 percent of Connecticut’s 75-and-older population has received one of the two federally approved vaccines, according to the state’s data. In total, 517,081 doses have been administered in the state as of Monday. Of those, 387,174 have received at least a first dose, while 129,907 have received both doses.
The lower age of eligibility adds some 350,000 to the vaccine rollout. Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said the state hopes to give those people their first shot over the next month.
“That’s a good size of our population,” Lamont said Monday, but noted that many who are 65 and older have already been vaccinated at nursing homes.
Maura Fitzgerald, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said the Vaccine Administration Management System has also been upgraded to allow people to schedule their first and second doses at the same time.
Some had complained about difficulty scheduling the second dose, which can also now be administered up to 42 days after the first shot, according to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Connecticut’s COVID-19 numbers continued to remain low on Monday when 4,367 new cases were reported from over the weekend for a three-day positivity rate of 3.58 percent. There were also 12 fewer hospitalizations, dropping the statewide total to 815.
COVID-related deaths increased by 68 over the weekend, increasing the statewide death toll to 7,282.
The Lamont administration is hoping this next phase of the vaccine rollout can be aimed at helping vulnerable populations and communities of color, which have been disproportionately hit by the virus.
In a statement Monday, Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said “we want to ensure that within this high-risk group, we focus on getting vaccine to individuals within the group who come from communities that have been hardest hit by the virus, namely our Black and Latino communities.”
Lamont said the federal direct-to-pharmacy sites are aimed at providing the vaccine to areas high on the social vulnerability index, data tracked by the CDC based on the census that determines where assistance is needed during emergencies.
Lamont said the state is working with local health departments to identify vulnerable populations, and will find trusted members of the community to help spread the word about the vaccine’s availability and safety. He described it as “GOTV” — “not, ‘get out the vote,’ but ‘get out the vaccine.’”
After those 65 and older, the state is expected to begin vaccinating frontline essential workers and those with underlying medical conditions that put them more at risk of the virus. Those vaccinations should start sometime next month.
“I don’t know if it’s early March, but sometime in March,” the governor said when asked if that’s still the timeline expected.
No specific date has been given for those groups. The governor said the timeline for vaccinating those 65 and over will depend on the “appetite” to get vaccinated and the supply of vaccines.
This week, Connecticut is expected to receive about 58,000 doses of vaccine, according to Lamont. At the end of the week, the federal government is also expected to ship around 11,000 doses directly to pharmacies. “And over and above that, we’ll be getting second doses,” Lamont said.
Some providers are giving the next age group a head start in signing up.
Yale New Haven Health has a link for people to register and book an appointment online.
Ledge Light Health District in New London has also announced the lower age of eligibility on its website, and the Bristol Senior Center said in a Facebook post that it can now take those 65 and older at its vaccine clinic.
Lamont acknowledged the interest and excitement over opening the vaccine to younger people, but urged patience.
“I know down in Florida they opened it up, they said first come, first served,” leading demand to quickly outstrip supply,” he said.
“Bear with us, because there are a lot of people — 350,000 people — who are now going to be eligible in this next category. It’s going to take us a while to get everyone vaccinated, even take us a while to get everyone an appointment. But you will get an appointment, you will get vaccinated, and it will take us over the course of the next month.”