Courtesy of the governor's office

HARTFORD, CT—Connecticut began the lengthy process of vaccinating the public against the COVID-19 virus Monday as more than a dozen front-line health care providers stepped forward to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

“This is significant news for the health care community. It’s significant news for every member in the state of Connecticut. It’s a significant step for us to move forward to what we remember of normal in this great state of Connecticut,” said Keith Grant, an advanced nurse practitioner and one of at least 15 Hartford Hospital employees who got the first of two required doses.

Grant appeared remotely with Gov. Ned Lamont for a televised news briefing on the state’s coronavirus situation. Lamont said Hartford and Middlesex Hospitals received shipments totaling 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-developed vaccine. He said 12 hospitals were scheduled to receive the vaccine this week.

The governor, seeking to strike an optimistic tone while tempering public expectations, put his outlook in sports terms.

“I’m a football fan and I think I can see the end zone but I also know there’s a whole lot of blocking and tackling we’ve got to do between here and the final 30 yards,” Lamont said. “This is a time where we’ve got the festivities and the holidays and the family. We don’t need another surge like we had a bit after Thanksgiving.”

Lamont said it may be several months before the vaccine’s rollout has a noticeable impact on the state’s infection rates. On Monday, the daily infection rate stood at 6.08% as Connecticut added another 7,231 cases over the weekend.

The governor expected the vaccine to have a more immediate impact on medical providers who, along with nursing home residents and EMS responders, are in the first wave of vaccinations. He said most of the front line health care workers may be fully vaccinated by the end of next month.

State officials are hoping most health care employees opt to get vaccinated when given the chance. But there is some skepticism about the vaccine which was developed and approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration with historic speed in just nine months.

During the briefing, Grant referenced a survey, which he said found that roughly 65% of hospital employees planned to get the shot. He said the survey included health care providers as well as support staff like custodians and food service workers.

By being among the first to receive the vaccine, Grant said he hoped to help demonstrate its safety and efficacy.

“We do believe in what we’ve said of the science behind this and the safety and efficacy of this. We strongly believe in it,” he said. “Us, as the scientists and leaders in this group, we have an obligation to step forward. That’s what we did today.”

The governor said he was torn between receiving the vaccine early in an effort to lead by example and waiting his turn. Lamont, who is 66 years old, would be among the population included in the second phase of the rollout. Phase 1b includes people over 65 and members of the critical workforce. He said he would wait for CDC guidance on whether governors should be vaccinated early.

Since getting the first dose, Grant said many people have been interested to hear whether he was experiencing side effects. He said there were none.

“Some mild soreness at the site of injection, which is expected with any shot. Absolutely no side effects. I feel great,” he said.

The governor said he expected demand for the vaccine to outpace supply for some time. The state anticipates receiving 129,000 doses by the end of next week. Lamont said he expects to have about 1 million Connecticut residents fully vaccinated by the end of March. In the meantime, he urged people to use caution.

Although hospitalization numbers have bounced around in recent days, they continue to generally trend upward. Hospitals admitted another 33 patients over the weekend for a total 1,243 statewide.

Fatalities have continued to climb in Connecticut as well with another 81 deaths since Friday, bringing the state total to 5,444. Nationwide, COVID-related deaths exceeded 300,000 on Monday, according to the Associated Press.