Courtesy of CT-N

HARTFORD, CT—Connecticut officials began the process of vaccinating the 277,000 residents who are 75 years old or older against the coronavirus Thursday, scheduling first-dose appointments by phone and over the internet.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration signaled vaccinating the state’s elderly population would be its first priority as it heads into Phase 1b of the vaccine rollout early next week. In total, the next wave sees 1.3 million residents eligible for vaccination. The state has backed plans to include people over the age of 65 and those with high-risk medical conditions. It also includes people who work certain critical jobs and residents of congregate living facilities.

But public health officials were focused Thursday on those older residents in the first group and they declined to offer a timeline when other groups should expect to be vaccinated. During a televised news briefing, Lamont said he understood that some residents were feeling anxious, with their “nerves on edge” to get vaccinated amidst “raging COVID.”

“We understand that this is a state that’s lost 65-hundred people to COVID and we have the possibility of a life-saving vaccine that seems to be working, seems to be safe and effective,” Lamont said. “Please respect the process.”

Officials offered older residents three avenues to schedule an appointment. They can use the state website or dial 877-918-2224. If possible, residents should make their own appointments. Patients can also reach out directly to their health care providers.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said the state had scheduled a modest number of appointments over the phone ahead of Thursday’s briefing. She said several dozen had been scheduled and many more were waiting in the queue. State Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said providers with open slots available began vaccinating residents 75 or older this week. He said “hundreds” had been vaccinated already.

Thursday’s rollout was not without its hiccups. At times during the day the appointment website appeared to be down as were the websites of health care providers.

“If you’re bumping into those kinds of technical glitches, just try back in a couple of hours. As we’ve said, patience is the watchword for the day,” Gifford said. “There will be enough vaccine eventually.”

Residents will need an email address to be entered into the scheduling system. Geballe said friends or family members could help older residents prepare to make an appointment by helping them create an email account. Geballe said the scheduling application was not “perfectly intuitive,” but found most users were able to navigate it. However, if they have trouble, he said they can opt to make an appointment by phone.

The state began its vaccine rollout in mid-December and has already administered doses to more than 150,000 people. The first phase of the process was targeted narrowly at frontline health care workers and residents of nursing homes.

The transition to Phase 1b represents a significant expansion of scope for the process as more than one million people become eligible. The state is planning to launch mass vaccination sites. Lamont said the first one would be located at Rentschler Field, which should be running by early next week. Retail pharmacies will also begin administering the vaccine. Geballe said Walgreens should begin offering shots to eligible residents in the coming weeks and CVS pharmacies will follow soon after.

Officials said the rollout will be limited by the amount of doses Connecticut receives.

“Demand is far outstripping supply,” Lamont said.

Throughout an hour-long press conference, reporters tried several times to get members of the administration to offer a timeline for when other groups may become eligible for the vaccine. They resisted every time.

“We understand and appreciate that people want to know when they’ll be getting their vaccine. It’s going to be awhile,” Gifford said, given the numbers. “Forty-six thousand doses on average that we’re getting per week; 1.3 million people in Phase 1b. It’s going to take some patience.”