After lawmakers and public information advocates decried the opacity of Gov. Ned Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, the governor’s administration pledged to flip the script with its COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group.
But despite the governor’s promise of open meetings, the vaccine advisory group’s transparency took a detour in early December, when the group’s Allocations Subcommittee held a closed-door meeting.
Av Harris, spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health, said that the private nature of the Dec. 2 meeting was “unintentional.”
Harris said the meeting was rescheduled several times, as the subcommittee tried to align the meeting date with the release of new federal guidance on vaccine distribution. When the meeting was rescheduled for the final time, Harris said, the subcommittee simply overlooked its duty to notify the public of the new meeting date and to provide either a video stream or video call-in information.
At the meeting, the subcommittee discussed and voted on a recommendation for how the governor should distribute the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine. But the meeting could not be accessed by either reporters or members of the general public. State law requires that the meeting be properly noticed and held in public, similar to a local board of education or city council meeting.
For the vaccine advisory group, state officials have said transparency does more than just follow the law — over the course of several months and many meetings, transparency helps combat misinformation and bolster public trust in the vaccination process.
In order for coronavirus vaccinations to be effective, about 80% of the public must agree to take the vaccine. That percentage, which factors in a small number of unsuccessful vaccinations, will allow the community to reach herd immunity, or widespread protection against the virus.
But, in large part because of the unprecedented speed with which the coronavirus vaccines were developed, a significant portion of Americans have said they don’t trust the vaccine.
Recent surveys have shown that between a quarter and a third of Americans say they would not take the vaccine. If that skepticism continues to hold, then American communities are at risk of failing to achieve herd immunity — which means the virus would continue to spread even after a vaccine is widely available.
When Lamont announced his vaccine advisory group in September, he said one of the group’s goals was to avoid that possibility. The group would aim to ensure that “when we have the wide distribution of the vaccine readily available, we have people confident they can take it, they can take it safely and it’ll make a difference.”
The co-chair of the Allocations Subcommittee, Charter Oak Health Center President Nichelle Mullins, said her primary goal is not necessarily to convince everyone to take the vaccine. Instead, she aims to provide accurate information so that people can make well-educated choices.
“I have concerns about people who are making decisions not to take the vaccine because of rumors or conjecture or false information,” Mullins said. “I’d like people to be equipped with the truth.”
She said that, alongside public information campaigns and one-on-one conversations with medical providers, government transparency on this process is a key part of spreading that accurate information.
But she added that she doesn’t believe the subcommittee’s Dec. 2 misstep will significantly impact public trust — in part because it was an “oversight” as opposed to an intentional exclusion, and in part because the subcommittee itself includes members of the public.
Emily Brindley can be reached at email@example.com.