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COVID-19 vaccine weeks away for state residents 65 and older

Connecticut residents between the ages of 65 and 74 could start baring their upper arms in a couple of weeks or soon thereafter as the state continues to prioritize age in its rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

By then, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday, the state will have completed Phase 1a vaccinations of front-line health care workers and nursing home residents as well as Phase 1b vaccinations of those 75 and older. Next up in the latest phase, after the 65-to-74 crowd, are those between 16 and 64 who have underlying health conditions that put them at increased risk of severe illness or death.

“Why are we prioritizing the elderly?” Lamont said. “... It’s the right thing to do.”

He noted that people 75 and older make up 8% of the population but 71% of the deaths associated with the coronavirus disease. Many of them who contract the disease end up in hospital emergency rooms and critical care units. He said state officials thought long and hard about who should next be vaccinated in Phase 1b, and settled on those between 65 and 74. Those 65 and older, he said, account for 18% of the population, 88% of the COVID-19 deaths and more than half of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Under the state’s tiered approach to Phase 1b, those 75 and older can continue scheduling vaccinations right now while those between 65 and 74 likely will be able to start making appointments in early February.

By late February or early March, essential front-line workers and those with underlying conditions that put them at risk for severe illness or death likely will be able to start scheduling shots. The list of such illnesses, or comorbidities, compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been adopted by the state, according to Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Gifford, who participated in the governor's virtual news briefing Tuesday, said the CDC monitors research and data related to the illnesses on the list and has made additions to it. The list includes cancer; chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD; Down syndrome; certain heart conditions; obesity; pregnancy; sickle cell disease; smoking; diabetes; and an immune system weakened by a solid organ transplant.

Lamont reported that the state continues “to make very good progress” in rolling out the vaccine, having administered more than 220,000 doses manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, including 24,000 second doses. Through Sunday, the state had administered 71% of the doses it had received from the federal government — about 45,000 doses a week in recent weeks as well as an additional one-week shipment of 50,000 doses — placing it among the top five states for administering the vaccine.

An estimated 1.4 million people in Connecticut will be eligible for the vaccine as part of Phase 1b.

Lamont delivered what he called “relatively good news” on the incidence of COVID-19 in the state, reporting that 2,094 new cases had been detected since the previous day and that the results of 37,033 new tests had been returned, yielding a positivity rate of 5.65%. The seven-day rolling average rate of 5.3% was the lowest it’s been since early December.

Hospitalizations were up by 27 to 1,141, and 12 additional deaths associated with the disease raised the state’s toll to 6,682 as it surpassed 400,000 nationally. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London reported it had 37 COVID-19 patients while Westerly Hospital had 10.

Lamont said he was happy to see some stabilization in the metrics, not just in Connecticut but in the neighboring states of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and, to a lesser extent, New York.

“College kids are coming back,” he said.

The University of Connecticut reported Tuesday that its policy of requiring students to get tested for COVID-19 both before and after returning to campus from semester break prevented 76 active cases of the disease from being introduced to the residential student body. The spring semester started Tuesday.

Students who live in residence halls on UConn campuses in Storrs and Stamford were required to test at home between Jan. 10 and 13 and were tested again over the weekend during the spring semester move-in process. That procedure caught 56 cases during the at-home testing, and another 20 cases among students who’d initially tested negative but developed the virus before arriving back on campus and testing positive Saturday or Sunday.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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