Two photos of Shanan Haislip, a cancer patient
Shanan Haislip, a 33-year-old cancer patient (Photos courtesy of Shanan Haislip, All Rights Reserved)

(Updated 6:38 p.m.) “Frustrated,” was one word Shanan Haislip, a 33-year-old cancer patient, used to describe how she felt Monday after hearing that she would have to wait until May 3 to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Isolated in her house for almost a year, aside from leaving to go to the doctor or the hospital, Haislip is disappointed she will have to wait three more months for a vaccine.

“It’s bittersweet,” Haislip said Tuesday in a phone interview.

She said she is happy the teachers will be moved up in the priority list because her son is going to kindergarten next year, but she feels frustrated for the rest of the essential workers who have been doing their jobs since the very beginning.

Haislip had spoken with her oncologist about getting the vaccine.

“They did want me to get it,” Haislip said.

People with cancer are at a higher risk of complications if they get COVID-19.

Theresa Freeman of the American Cancer Society said in a statement that cancer patients are at increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19 and should be included in high-risk groups prioritized for vaccination.”

However the organization did not take a position on Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision.

“The American Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network call for states and the federal government to establish fair and equitable vaccine distribution plans and ensure protection for the most vulnerable,” Freeman said.

Haislip said she’s almost done with her breast cancer treatment, but feels bad for all the younger people behind her or just getting their diagnosis.

Many cancer patients and those with chronic medical conditions took to social media Monday to express their frustrations.

Cathy Wynn, who said she survived cancer 20 years ago, said on Facebook that she thinks “oncologists and cancer centers should have been given a supply and should have reached out to their higher-risk patients. That wouldn’t have been that hard but it would have required a cohesive thought.”

Breast cancer and COVID concept (Piyawat Nandeenopparit via Shutterstock)

Amy Mazzoni is 43 years old and has Cystic Fibrosis. She pulled her five year old daughter out of preschool in February and has taken extreme precautions to protect herself and her family from COVID-19. 

She says she feels betrayed because it feels like a broken promise. She said the state did so much to protect her during this pandemic and she listened to all the advice the state gave, but now “they’re not keeping up their end of the bargain.” 

“I feel lied to and I feel like the state turned its back on me,” Mazzoni said. 

She urged the governor to reconsider. 

“We’ve been good citizens. It was supposed to be my turn days away,” she said. 

Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday that it would have been “complicated” to focus on the medically compromised, which is why he decided to go with an age-based approach. He said that other states have struggled with how to verify existing conditions, and whether a given condition experienced in years past would still be relevant.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, was unable to say how many people fall into the medically compromised category.

There are 650,000 Connecticut residents who are either educators or in the 55-to-64 group. There are another 400,000 in each of the 54-to-45 and 44-to-35 age groups.

There’s no estimate on the number of people with pre-existing medical conditions that would qualify them for a vaccine before their age group.

“We know that people with underlying conditions skew into the older age category,” Geballe said.

Nichelle Mullins, chairwoman of the Allocation Subcommittee and president of Charter Oak Health Center, said the reason her committee didn’t recommend doing this by age was because of the equity issue.

“When we looked at a phased approach to the vaccine the doors are going to be open more widely for white individuals,” Mullins said.

She said that’s simply based on the numbers. There are more older white people in Connecticut than people of color who tend to be younger and work in places like grocery stores.

“There is a need to look at other strategies to ensure that communities of color have access to the vaccine,” Mullins said.

She said that’s why they recommended essential workers and those with high-risk medical conditions.

There was a lot of discussion about what medical conditions would qualify a person for the vaccine, Mullins said, and how someone would be able to offer proof of that condition.

“Some people feel like they were lied to,” Mullins said, adding that they are doing their best to explain the reasons behind Lamont’s decision.

Mullins said she knows the Department of Public Health was trying to figure out how medical providers would “operationalize” distribution of the vaccine to the community of high-risk patients. 

“What would we require when an individual comes into the door and says: ‘I qualify for the vaccine. I have an underlying health condition’,” Mullins said. “Is that a doctor’s note? Is that some other form of documentation? And there was some concern that that could lead to further inequities.”