Gov. Ned Lamont says hospitals ‘overpromised,’ as UConn Health blames cancelled vaccine appointments on decreased supply from state

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Alex Putterman, Hartford Courant
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UConn Health on Monday blamed the cancellation of nearly a week’s worth of COVID-19 vaccine appointments on a decrease in supply from the state, while Gov. Ned Lamont says hospital systems “overpromised” in scheduling vaccinations.

Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, attributed the vaccine cancelations to miscommunication between the hospitals and the state Department of Public Health.

“[Providers] need to make sure they’re synced up with DPH on what they can expect going forward and not assume, and I think that’s what may have happened here,” Geballe said. “There were some communication issues there that have been ironed out, and hopefully we won’t see that happen again.”

Both UConn Health and Waterbury Hospital announced over the weekend they were forced to cancel first-dose appointments due to lack of supply. On Monday, a spokesperson for UConn Health said the system found out late last week that its weekly vaccine allotment would decrease from more than 1,500 doses to 500.

As a result, UConn Health canceled all vaccine appointments from Monday through Feb. 8, directing patients scheduled for vaccination Monday and Tuesday toward an alternate vaccination site and working to reschedule everyone slated for Feb. 3-8.

“As we move forward, it is important to note that because of the ongoing uncertainty in vaccine supply, decisions will need to be made weekly as to whether any additional appointments will need to be canceled,” UConn Health said, in a statement.

Similarly, Waterbury Hospital announced Saturday it had run out of vaccine doses and would require anyone with an appointment on Monday or Tuesday to reschedule. A representative for the hospital said Monday that its vaccine clinics would reopen Wednesday and would “continue to distribute every shot of the vaccine allotment we get to qualified individuals.”

Lamont, when asked about situation Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said “one or two of these systems maybe overpromised and, you know, had more people than they had vaccines.” Though hospital officials have clamored for more vaccine doses from the federal government, Lamont said the Biden administration has “done a relatively good job of getting us the vaccines when we need it.”

At a press briefing Monday, Geballe noted that the state doesn’t always get advance notice on how many doses to expect.

“We can’t provide certainty to someone when we don’t know what we’ll be getting,” he said.

DPH spokesperson Maura Fitzgerald said the agency distributes vaccines not only based on requests from hospitals but also based on factors such as “equitable distribution of vaccine across the state.”

“The bottom line is with a limited supply of vaccine coming from the federal government, most providers want more vaccine than they are going to get, and that is likely to continue until the vaccine supply starts to meet demand,” Fitzgerald said, in an email.

Connecticut has typically received about 46,000 first doses a week, which the state Department of Public Health are responsible for distributing to providers. The state’s largest hospital systems, including Hartford HealthCare, Yale New Haven Health and Trinity Health, have said they typically receive fewer doses than they request but enough to maintain a steady vaccination program.

Dr. Jim Cardon, chief clinical integration officer at Hartford HealthCare, said hospital systems face complex logistical considerations in scheduling vaccine appointments. Without knowing far ahead of time exactly how many doses they might receive, officials are forced to guess at how many appointments to schedule.

“Everybody is trying to [administer] all the vaccine they get in, so sometimes if you just miscalculate you’re going to have to cancel some folks,” Cardon said. “It’s unfortunate, but everybody’s trying to just make the best guess they can.”

Hartford HealthCare’s approach, Cardon said, has been to keep “very tight alignment between appointments and vaccine we’re anticipating coming in,” preferring to schedule too few appointments and add some last-minute than to schedule too many and have to cancel.

Still, he said, the system isn’t foolproof.

“I’d love to tell you that we’ve got it so buttoned down that there’s no way we would ever have to cancel anybody,” Cardon said. “We’re trying to really make sure we’re doing that without necessarily being overly restrictive.”

Connecticut continues to rate well relative to other states in vaccine distribution, standing third nationally in the share of its population that has received at least one shot. Still, the state has seen hiccups, including the mistaken vaccination of hundreds of teachers, some confusion around who is and isn’t eligible and now the cancelation of some appointments.

Cuihong Li, a professor of operations and information management at UConn, has advocated for more centralized decision-making, as opposed to a patchwork of hospital systems working separately, as well as more aggressive scheduling of vaccine appointments.

Li said Monday that vaccine providers should err toward scheduling too many appointments as opposed to not enough.

“It’s OK to have people waiting for vaccines but not to have vaccine waiting to reach people’s arms,” said Li, who is not affiliated with UConn Health. “That means it’s OK to even overbook appointments, letting people know there’s a possibility they might get bumped.”

Alex Putterman can be reached at aputterman@courant.com.