With nearly half of Connecticut’s residents poised to become eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations next week, Gov. Ned Lamont discussed plans Wednesday to prioritize elderly residents as public health officials brace for a wave of demand.
During a morning virtual meeting of the Council of Small Towns, the governor temporarily brushed aside early hand-wringing over anti-vaxxers and public reluctance to get vaccinated.
“None of that. Right now, I have people lining up, really desperate to get the vaccine,” Lamont told the municipal leaders assembled in a Zoom chat.
So far, the governor said Connecticut has managed to vaccinate a higher percentage of its residents than any other state except West Virginia. “Go figure,” Lamont said. But while early efforts were aimed tightly at frontline health care workers and nursing home residents, a state panel deferred to federal guidelines Tuesday and backed a plan to include everyone over the age of 65 and anyone with a high-risk medical condition in the next round.
Those new additions, coupled with the panel’s earlier recommendations to include residents of congregate settings and the state’s critical workforce, see the state gearing up for a vaccination wave that potentially includes more than 1.5 million people. The wave begins next week.
Although he has routinely suggested he would abide by the advice of the allocations panel, Lamont has often cautioned a discerning approach to divvying out the vaccine. With his advisory group moving in the other direction, the governor repeated those concerns and suggested his team would prioritize seniors as it began next week to manage the next phase.
“We’ve got now a priority group of well over a million people. As I’ve said a hundred times, if everybody’s a priority, nobody’s a priority and our team now is working very carefully to figure it out. We’re opening up for the 75 and overs. You can start signing up on Thursday,” he said.
But the plan presents its own challenges, particularly because the state is looking to manage vaccination appointments online and many of Connecticut’s oldest residents lack the technological proficiency to engage with the system. The governor said they would be making appointments by phone.
Some town leaders had concerns.
“We have become inundated with people wanting to know how to sign up,” Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “Our senior center, which has a little over 4,000 members, 20 percent of membership there do not have email and they’re going to need a lot of assistance,” he said later.
North Haven First Selectman Mike Freda had concerns about the state’s capacity to handle the volume of phone calls.
“The seniors will be calling en masse once the phone number is issued on Thursday. My question is, do you feel that the phone system is robust enough to handle the tremendous influx of calls?” Freda asked.
Lamont said the state was working with the United Way to utilize the 211 system to connect residents with appointments. He said the state was “ramping up” its telephone capacity to facilitate getting seniors entered into the vaccination appointment database.
Hospitals and health care providers were already in the process of reaching out to elderly patients to keep them informed of the process, the governor said. Lamont urged patience from all the newly vaccine-eligible residents.
“It got a little complicated when they said ‘Hey, 75 and above.’ ‘Hey, 65 and above.’ That moving target – I still have more or less the same number of vaccines,” Lamont said. “We’re going to be able to get everybody in this group done but I won’t be able to get them all done in the first two to three weeks.”