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Becoming Eligible For COVID Vax? Supply Will Determine Wait Time



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With the March 1 expansion of eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines opening up for school staffers, child care providers, and those age 55 and over, Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert has a few important points for residents and those critical workers to remember.

Culbert told The Newtown Bee February 25 that she has already determined any local vaccine clinics, similar to Governor Ned Lamont’s latest plan, will continue accommodating Newtown’s oldest residents first.

“Right now we’re at [age] 71,” Culbert said, referring to those in the local eligibility pool who have already received at least one vaccine dose. At press time Thursday, February 25, she was confident that almost every resident age 71 or older in the general population who wants to be vaccinated has been.

So although eligibility for those 55 and over opens on March 1, it may be some time before local clinics have worked down to that 55 to 65 pool. The speed at which those appointments open up is determined by the volume of vaccines that arrive in town.

This week, the health district piloted its first expanded clinic, bringing in more workers to administer the registration completion and vaccine delivery. While Culbert said it appeared that all recipient candidates were not inconvenienced, she and some administrative workers were becoming frustrated with the federal VAMS system being used to issue vaccine appointments.

“I think it has to do with add-ons that are being installed as we proceed with the program,” Culbert said. “It looks like it has a lot to do with [developers of the system] wanting the most accurate real-time data — and I get that. It just created a bottleneck for us even though we had shots waiting for those who came to the clinic on time with appointments.”

Speaking of on time, Culbert also wants to remind those with appointments that the Senior Center, where clinics are being held, has a limited capacity for people inside, including workers, so those who show up early may be asked to wait outside or in their cars until it is appropriate to come in.

The pilot expansion held this week did prove that the health district could expand the scope of vaccine clinics, as long as they have the doses to deliver. She said that in the near future, the state has pledged wider availability of vaccines, which bodes well for her to begin planning clinics for school workers, as well.

“If I get a shipment of 200 vaccines, I may be able to set up a clinic at one of the schools for [district] staff who are becoming eligible,” Culbert said.

Take What You Can

As the eligibility pool widens and the supply chain ramps up vaccine delivery, the health director said that anyone eligible who can get a vaccine appointment they can conveniently get to should take the appointment rather than waiting for one to open up in Newtown.

So if on March 1 an eligible 55-year-old is able to get an appointment in Danbury or Shelton, or even at the mass vaccine clinic at the Mohegan Sun casino — and they can get there — they should take it.

“I’m only concerned that the further people have to travel, the more inconvenient it might be if they have to return there in two weeks for their booster,” she said.

While new statewide COVID infections have continued to trend down, the spread of variants is still precipitating the need for people to wear face masks, and even double masking, practice the recommended social distancing, and disinfecting — including frequent hand washing.

In Newtown as of February 24, the health district has logged 1,517 cases, an increase of 59 in the past week — and two more COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the total number of residents lost to 62. While Newtown remains in the “red zone” this week, with 15 or more positive COVID cases per 100,000 people, several neighboring communities are seeing their severity ranking drop.

As of February 25, Southbury is classified “orange,” with 10 to 14 cases per 100,000; Redding is classified “yellow,” with 5 to 9 cases per 100,000; and Bridgewater is in the “gray” zone, with fewer than five cases per 100,000. Along with Newtown, Monroe, Easton, Bethel, and Brookfield remain classified “red.”

On that date, the total of COVID-19 cases reported among all Connecticut residents was 278,184, including 259,600 laboratory-confirmed and 18,584 probable cases; 495 patients were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 at that time, and there have been 7,595 COVID-19-associated deaths registered.

According to a Connecticut Public Radio report by Patrick Skahill, the state’s chief medical examiner said this week that his office has identified more than 100 deaths that should have been reported as COVID-19-related, including dozens originally certified as non-COVID fatalities. Speaking to the legislature’s appropriations committee, Chief Medical Examiner James Gill said his office caught 110 previously undiagnosed COVID-19 deaths between March and October of last year.

“We’ll get a death certificate that says ‘respiratory failure.’ That’s not a competent death certificate,” Gill said. “If we find out the person is from a nursing home, we’re going to investigate that more and go to the funeral home and do a swab,” Gill said. “We’ve amended several, many, death certificates that initially were not certified as COVID.”

Gill said about half of the 110 deaths occurred at skilled nursing facilities, with a further third being people who died at home. He said his office caught 47 coronavirus deaths that were not originally linked to COVID-19.

New Eligibility Details

Governor Ned Lamont has announced that the state will continue with an age-based approach to expanding eligibility to the vaccine, explaining that other previously considered scenarios proved overly complex and confusing, and would potentially exacerbate inequities in vaccine distribution and slow down the process of providing it to Connecticut residents.

Age is one of the strongest factors contributing to COVID-19 deaths, with 96 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Connecticut occurring in people over the age of 55. To provide clarity and predictability, the governor announced a schedule for age-based eligibility for the next several months, a strategy that allows everyone in the state, including essential workers and those with chronic conditions, to know when they will be able to schedule an appointment. The schedule is as follows:

*March 1 — Expands to age group 55 to 64;

*March 22 — Expands to age group 45 to 54;

*April 12 — Expands to age group 35 to 44; and

*May 3 — Expands to age group 16 to 34.

To further ensure equitable allocation of the vaccine, Governor Lamont also announced that he is directing the Connecticut Department of Public Health to set numerical targets and work with vaccine providers to ensure that vaccines are administered to people living in the highest-risk communities in proportion to their population. These targets and the associated strategies will be announced in the coming days.

In addition to the age-based eligibility, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade school staff and teachers, as well as professional child care providers, will be eligible to receive the vaccine in March at clinics that will be set up specifically for those sectors. Educators and child care professionals will soon receive information from their school administrators and employers regarding those dedicated clinics.

All previously eligible individuals and sectors will continue to be eligible after March 1.

“In a perfect world, we would have enough doses of the vaccine to get it to all 3.6 million people in Connecticut right now; however, each state is being given a very limited supply, which is why we must take this phased approach,” Governor Lamont said.

Eligible veterans seeking a COVID vaccine are welcome to attend the Connecticut VA Healthcare System clinic Saturday, February 27 from 8am - 3pm at 555 Willard Avenue (Bldg 2E), Newington. It is open to enrolled veterans.

No appointment is necessary. Essential workers of any age who are enrolled for care are also eligible, according to a VA notice.

A walk-in clinic is also running from 12-4pm at the West Haven Annex, 200 Edison Road/Pez Boulevard in Orange February 26.

A literal sign of hope greets those traveling north on Glen Road. Hung in the crook of a tree just north of the Dayton Street bridge, the handmade sign reminds everyone that the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end.  —Bee Photo, Hicks
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