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Lamont: Advisory group will develop plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccine

Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, and Reginald Eadie, president and chief executive officer of Trinity Health of New England, will lead an advisory group charged with developing a plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine once it's available in Connecticut.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced the selection of Gifford and Eadie to lead the group, which will convene its first meeting next month, during his press briefing Monday afternoon on the state’s response to the coronavirus.

Gifford and Eadie will help select the rest of the members of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, which will include vaccine experts, representatives of state agencies, candidates recommended by the legislature and “advocates for highly impacted communities,” Lamont said.

Earlier in the day, Lamont participated in a teleconference with members of the White House’s COVID-19 Task Force, during which governors were instructed to start coming up with plans for how they would distribute the vaccine in their respective states, including which high-risk groups should get priority before the vaccine is more widely available.

Three companies, including Pfizer, currently have COVID-19 vaccines for adults in late-stage clinical trials. But experts say the vaccine likely will not be widely available until next spring, at the earliest, and more likely during the summer of 2021.

In recent weeks, President Trump has said a vaccine will be ready before the presidential election on Nov. 3, causing concern among experts, who have advised otherwise.

“It’s not going to be ready for distribution at the earliest before the end of this year. They were frank about that, but they want that plan now in terms of priority, who gets it (first), how it’s going to be distributed,” Lamont said. “And secondly, we have to build up public confidence so people who are vaccine-shy have some confidence that when we do this, we’re doing it in an appropriate and safe and effective way.”

A major task of the advisory group will be to build confidence among Connecticut residents about the vaccine development process and about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. All of the group’s meetings will be open to the public so that "you know that the work that we're doing is not done in secret but instead done in confidence with a high degree of security," Eadie said.

A push is underway to get more minorities to take part in the ongoing clinical trials. At the same time, a June study from Pew shows that Black Americans are more hesitant to sign up for a potential vaccine despiting facing higher COVID-19 risks.  

"That's where the transparency comes in," Eadie said. "As an African American, and understanding the insecurities that exist and rightfully so, when you learn about things like the Tuskegee, there's work to be done." He was referring to the infamous Tuskegee study of syphilis, which involved unethical experimentation on Black men in the rural South.

Eadie and Gifford have committed to not promote the vaccine "unless we're sure, regardless of race, age, co-morbidities, that it's the right thing to do and safe for all of you, and that's a promise."

The task group will also come up with a strategy for distribution, including which high-risk groups might get it first, but also details such as how and where the vaccine will be stored, and engage with medical providers to ensure they have confidence in the process.

"I've been in public health for a long time," Gifford said. "This vaccine and getting it right will be one of most important public health programs of my lifetime."

Since Friday, Connecticut saw another 497 positive COVID-19 cases, three COVID-related deaths and nine fewer patients hospitalized with the disease. The state is averaging about 100,000 COVID-19 tests per week, and its positivity rate was at 1.1% as of Monday, down from 1.6% late last week.

j.bergman@theday.com

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