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A rush to schedule appointments as state extends COVID-19 vaccine to last group

More than 100,000 Connecticut residents scheduled appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations Thursday, the first day those 16 to 44 years of age were eligible to do so, according to Gov. Ned Lamont.

As statewide cases of the coronavirus disease continue to tick upward, all those in the state age 16 and older are now eligible for vaccinations, which experts believe are the key to eradicating the disease.

“We’re making very good progress,” Lamont said during a virtual news briefing.

He urged those who may have had difficulty scheduling an appointment to have patience, offering assurances that additional spots will become available over the next several weeks. Supplies of the vaccines continue to flow, he said, despite what people may have heard about a “hiccup” in the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, resulting in the contamination of some 15 million doses that had to be discarded.

That mix-up will have no immediate effect on Connecticut’s supply of the vaccine, said Lamont, whose administration estimates supply will exceed demand by late April.

Connecticut, which ranks among the top three most-vaccinated states in the nation, already has administered at least one dose of vaccine to 43% of its 16-and-older population, the governor reported. Among those 65 and older, 81% have received at least one dose, and among those 45 and older, 65% have gotten at least one shot in the arm.

Lamont noted that although Connecticut is among the 10 states with the most COVID-19 cases per capita, it has among the lowest rates of fatalities per capita, an indication, he said, that its age-based rollout of the vaccine has helped save lives.

“Vaccinating those most at risk has made a difference,” he said.

Cases of the disease still continue at a faster pace than in previous weeks, with 1,580 new cases detected among 35,538 tests in the previous 24 hours, a positivity rate of 4.45%. Hospitalizations dropped by 21 to 492, while 14 additional deaths pushed the toll since the pandemic began in March 2020 to 7,900.

Lamont was joined at the briefing by Angela Hwang, president of Pfizer’s biopharmaceuticals group, who discussed the drugmaker’s announcement Thursday that a new study had found its COVID-19 vaccine to be 91.3% effective six months after people received the second of two doses. A day earlier, Pfizer and its vaccine partner, BioNTech, announced the vaccine was 100% effective in children 12 to 15 years of age.

Hwang, who said Pfizer’s Groton labs have played a pivotal role in the manufacture of organic compounds used in producing the vaccine, said the company now is studying “boosting” the vaccine’s effect through further shots six to 12 months after the initial shots are administered.

The Pfizer vaccine has proved effective against COVID-19 variants, including those first detected in Brazil and South Africa, both of which have turned up in Connecticut.

Hwang said Pfizer has developed the technological know-how to make a new vaccine in 116 days, subject to regulatory approval.

Guard, sub base collaborate

The Connecticut National Guard and Navy personnel teamed up Thursday to vaccinate 1,000 sailors and others at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, helping the base overcome the unavailability of vaccine.

“We greatly appreciate the Connecticut National Guard supporting this joint effort to conduct a mass vaccination clinic and help us prove a concept of operations,” said Capt. Todd Moore, the base’s commanding officer. “We’ve practiced for mass vaccinations in the past with annual flu shots, vaccinating several hundred personnel in a day. And we’ve been able to conduct similar operations with the COVID-19 vaccine when availability has allowed. This joint effort goal is to administer 1,000 doses at one time.”

Connecticut National Guard medical personnel oversaw the distribution of Pfizer vaccine, while Navy personnel administered the shots.

“Efficiency is key, aggressively getting after shots in arms isn’t just essential for public health, it’s essential for maintaining and building readiness,” said Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, adjutant general and commander of the Connecticut National Guard. “Readiness requires working efficiently across service lines, across active and reserve component lines, to keep the nation safe come whatever may.”

The Department of Defense’s vaccine supply is separate from the allocations the federal government provides to states.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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