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Health systems administering 3rd COVID-19 vaccine doses to immunocompromised

Connecticut hospital networks operating in the region have begun connecting with those eligible for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a narrow category the White House announced Wednesday will soon be expanded to include everyone who has received two doses.

Yale New Haven Health planned to start reaching out Thursday morning to those moderately to severely immunocompromised, Dr. Ohm Deshpande, the network’s vice president for population health and associate chief clinical officer, said Wednesday.

“We know who they are,” Deshpande said of those immediately eligible for the so-called booster.

Hartford HealthCare also has contacted eligible patients and has begun administering third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Dr. James Cardon, chief clinical integration officer, said Wednesday during a virtual news briefing. Hartford HealthCare has the capability to contact patients via text, he said, and has sent out messages to those it has identified as candidates for the booster.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended its emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to allow for the additional dose in immunocompromised people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the additional dose for those undergoing or having recently undergone cancer treatment; having had a stem cell transplant or solid organ transplant; undergoing treatment for primary immunodeficiency; having advanced or untreated HIV infection; or undergoing active treatment with drugs that suppress the immune response.

To be eligible, individuals must have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least 28 days ago. If possible, the additional dose should be the same type as that initially received. Due to a lack of data, the CDC has yet to issue guidance regarding the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The moderately to severely immunocompromised, who are especially vulnerable to serious, prolonged illness if they contract the COVID-19 virus, make up about 3% of the adult population, according to the CDC.

Responding to the Biden administration’s announcement that it will begin offering COVID-19 booster shots to all adult Americans starting Sept. 20, the Connecticut Department of Public Health said it is focusing on getting everyone their first doses and on providing third doses for the immunocompromised. The department said it will be ready to provide boosters for everyone when they are recommended.

The talk of booster shots comes amid renewed efforts to overcome hesitancy among the unvaccinated.

“Getting the unvaccinated vaccinated is way, way more effective (than providing booster shots) in reducing the spread of the virus,” Deshpande said. “It’s really, really important to do everything we can to address the 30% of the people in Connecticut who are unvaccinated.”

Deshpande noted that Yale New Haven Health and other health care providers in the state have mandated their employees be vaccinated and that many others are following suit.

“As more and more institutions implement mandates, that will make a difference,” he said.

The University of Connecticut announced Wednesday that about 9,800 employees at its main campus in Storrs; at its regional campuses, including Avery Point in Groton; and at UConn Health in Farmington will be required to be fully vaccinated. Interim President Dr. Andrew Agwunobi notified the UConn community Tuesday.

The policy, similar to one in place for students who live on campus and/or have in-person classes, calls for employees to show evidence of vaccination by Oct. 15 or request and receive an exemption or deferral, which would require them to be tested weekly. 

COVID-19 update

Amid a recent wave of coronavirus cases, Connecticut’s upward trend reversed course Wednesday, with Gov. Ned Lamont’s office reporting 593 new cases and 19,824 new test results, a one-day positivity rate of 2.99%. The rate was a welcome comedown from the 4.25% reported Tuesday.

Hospitalizations, however, increased by 27 to 348. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London was treating seven COVID-19 cases Wednesday and Westerly Hospital, five.

Early in the day, the CDC designated Fairfield County as an area of “high” COVID-19 transmission, joining New London, Hartford, New Haven and Middlesex counties in the category. The designation, the CDC’s severest, indicates 100 or more cases per 100,000 people, or a positivity rate of 10% or higher over seven days. Connecticut’s three remaining counties remained areas of "substantial" transmission, meaning they’ve had from 50 to 100 cases, or a positivity rate between 8% and 10% over seven days.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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