A subcommittee of Connecticut’s vaccine advisory group on Tuesday recommended that the next wave of coronavirus vaccinations be allocated to frontline essential workers, residents of congregate settings and those aged 75 and older.
The phase will include teachers, grocery store workers, police officers, food service workers and sanitation workers, as well as with residents and staff of homeless shelters and prisons.
However, the subcommittee has yet to decide if the next phase will also include residents who are under the age of 75 but have underlying health conditions that place them at high-risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
The Allocations Subcommittee of Connecticut’s COVID-19 vaccine advisory group has so far based its discussions on federal recommendations. But the subcommittee is free to issue its own recommendations, whether or not they align with the federal recommendations, for Connecticut’s vaccine rollout. The subcommittee only issues recommendations for the state — the ultimate decision on the vaccine distribution timeline is in the hands of Gov. Ned Lamont.
For the first phase of vaccinations, known as Phase 1A, both the Allocations Subcommittee and the governor followed the federal recommendation and instructed the first vaccines to be given to health care workers and nursing home residents. That phase, which began in mid-December, is slated to wrap up at the end of January. (The Courant reported Monday that some health care workers aren’t likely to receive their second dose of the vaccine until February.)
But for the upcoming Phase 1B, the subcommittee has decided to modify the federal recommendations by adding more groups to the phase. The subcommittee on Tuesday formally affirmed the federal recommendation to include in the next phase frontline essential workers and people aged 75 and over. But the subcommittee also decided to add residents of congregate settings — including people who live in homeless shelters and the state’s prisons.
The subcommittee also discussed adding people who are under 75 but have comorbidities — such as cancer or diabetes — but the group did not come to a consensus during its two-hour meeting Tuesday. The group plans to meet again soon to wrap up that portion of the discussion and to potentially add more people to Phase 1B.
Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting public health commissioner and also the co-chair of the state’s vaccine advisory group, told the subcommittee on Tuesday that any additions to Phase 1B will delay the vaccination of the existing Phase 1B groups.
She centered her concern on elderly residents. That’s because, according to state data, 57% of Connecticut’s confirmed coronavirus deaths have been among those who are 80 and older. A full 80% of confirmed deaths have been among those who are 70 and older.
“Deaths are extremely highly concentrated in the oldest individuals,” Gifford said. “Everything we do to lengthen [Phase] 1B means that those at highest risk of death are subject to a longer [Phase] 1B period. So they’ll be getting in line with lots of individuals who are at lower risk of death from COVID.”
The subcommittee’s discussion focused on this balancing act — the members repeatedly acknowledged that while they would like to vaccinate everyone immediately, they also know that broadening the early vaccination groups will mean delays for others.
Some members, however, also raised concerns that people of color — who are statistically at a higher risk of both contracting and dying from COVID-19 — are not being given adequate priority.
Tekisha Dwan Everette, the executive director of Health Equity Connecticut and a member of the subcommittee, said the federal recommendations include “no consideration about race and ethnicity.”
In part because of these concerns, officials agreed to pull more state data on illness and death so that race could be included in the final discussion about adding more groups to Phase 1B.
The Allocations Subcommittee initially planned to use its Tuesday meeting to issue a recommendation for Phase 1C of vaccinations. However, the subcommittee didn’t have enough time to discuss that phase on Tuesday. The subcommittee’s next meeting has not yet been scheduled.
The federal government has recommended that Phase 1C include other essential workers, people between the ages of 65 and 74 and those who are younger than 65 but have high-risk conditions. In Connecticut, some of those groups may be included in the earlier Phase 1B.
Emily Brindley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.