Courtesy of the governor's office.

HARTFORD, CT—Health care workers and nursing home residents may begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the next couple weeks under a timeline released Thursday by Connecticut officials who hope to see most of the state population vaccinated by early fall.

Gov. Ned Lamont and the co-chairs of his vaccine advisory panel outlined the likely roll-out of the vaccine during a televised news briefing from the state Capitol. They broke the distribution of the vaccine down into three phases, although Lamont stressed that the precise timing may be subject to change. The two vaccines expected to become available first – from Pfizer and Moderna – require two doses spaced several weeks apart.

The arrival of the vaccine is expected to be staggered as the Food and Drug Administration reviews both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The FDA is expected to review the Pfizer vaccine next Thursday and the Moderna vaccine a week later, which will lead to a batch arriving in Connecticut on Dec. 14 followed by another on Dec. 21. Between the two vaccines, Lamont said he anticipates the state may receive around 94,000 doses by Dec. 21.

Phase 1a, beginning this month, will consist of approximately 204,000 frontline health care workers, 22,000 nursing home residents, and 6,000 medical first responders like EMTs and paramedics as well as firefighters and police “to the degree with which they’re driving ambulances,” the governor said. Depending on supply timelines, this group is expected to have completed receiving its two-dose cycle by the end of January.

Phase 1b is expected to run from mid-January to late May. During that time, the “critical workforce” will be vaccinated. That will include teachers, day care workers, food service workers, many state employees, and “folks who are interfacing every day with the population.” This phase will also include people in congregate settings like group homes and prisons. Anyone over the age of 65 will be eligible to get vaccinated during Phase 1b as well as “high risk” younger individuals, the governor said.

Phase 2 will likely start sometime in June, depending on availability of the vaccine. During this phase, children and the remaining residents who choose to get vaccinated will be able to do so.  The governor said the timeline was built with the expectation that about 80% of those eligible to get the vaccine would opt to take it.

“I think you can see the prioritization, why we’re doing what we’re doing and when you can expect your cohort to have access to the vaccine,” Lamont said.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said the administration was hoping that everyone in Connecticut who wants to be vaccinated will have received both doses by early fall of next year.

However, even with the vaccine around the corner, Gifford said Connecticut residents may need to continue to take steps to slow the spread of the virus “through the majority of 2021.” She said the situation was certain to evolve, but it was not yet clear what percentage of the population will opt to get vaccinated.

“Don’t get rid of your masks yet,” Gifford said.

During the briefing, Lamont also updated the state’s running coronavirus numbers. The statewide infection rate shot up to 7.13% Thursday. That’s the highest since the height of the first wave of the pandemic, when testing was generally more limited.

“That’s the highest we’ve had so far. Let’s cut to the chase. Back in the spring you were testing a different cohort. This is broad-based testing [at] 7% and I think a lot of that was not unexpected. It reflects all the travel back and forth may be stirring it up. Maybe the beginning of some of the Thanksgiving effects we had anticipated but it’s a big number,” the governor said.

Hospitalizations dipped for the first time in weeks, dropping by 11 patients to 1,191. Meanwhile, another 20 people died as a result of the virus, bringing the statewide total to 5,111.

Officials also updated the coronavirus infection rate map during the briefing. As of Thursday, 160 of Connecticut’s 169 towns had “red alert” levels of infection, meaning more than 15 positive cases per 100,000 residents.