After tossing federal vaccination guidelines this week in favor of a mostly age-based vaccine rollout, Gov. Ned Lamont took the plan to a sympathetic audience Wednesday night during a virtual meeting with the Connecticut AARP.
Lamont announced Monday his plan to abandon Centers for Disease Control guidelines and continue to make residents eligible for COVID-19 vaccination based on their age. He had previously suggested frontline workers and people with certain pre-existing medical conditions would be among the next vaccinated.
The new plan will give preference to residents aged 55 years and older as of March 1 and will expand to include younger age brackets in roughly three-week intervals. Educators and child care providers will become eligible through dedicated clinics starting as soon as next week.
Lamont, who at 67 took his first shot of the vaccine last week, explained his reasoning to AARP members during an event on Facebook.
“This is the group, as I’ve said, who are the most vulnerable — we are the group most vulnerable,” the governor said. “We are the group that are much more likely … to suffer complications because we’re much more likely to have what they call comorbidities, other issues.”
Lamont maintains that the age-based approach simplifies the process and enables the state to roll the vaccine out as quickly as possible. But it was a disappointment to younger residents with illnesses and disabilities, as well as frontline workers who could not stay home through the worst of the pandemic.
Those folks were on the minds of AARP members Wednesday night.
“How do you address people like the Connecticut bus driver or the grocery store clerk or a young person with possibly a heart condition who had been led to believe they were going to be vaccinated at this point?” Win Heimer asked Lamont. “How do you respond to them?”
The governor said the CDC list of essential workers and comorbid medical conditions was so broad that it amounted to about half of Connecticut’s adult population. He said states that have tried to roll the vaccine out on such an expansive basis have run into trouble.
“You saw websites crashing and long lines in Florida and nothing at the end of that line. We just thought that was not the appropriate way to go,” Lamont said. “By the way, even if you are on that list in, say, New York, it’s going to take you two months before you can get that appointment.”
The Connecticut AARP represents more than 600,000 residents over the age of 50 years old. Its state director, Nora Duncan, has been supportive of Lamont’s new rollout policy, tweeting Monday that 95% of COVID-related deaths have been of people 50 and above.
“There is one really big determining factor of being very ill and dying from COVID-19 and it is age,” Duncan said during Wednesday’s virtual meeting.
Other advocacy groups were less supportive. The Arc of Connecticut, an organization representing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, emailed supporters Wednesday urging them to contact elected representatives and oppose the age-based guidelines.
“As a result of the Governor’s arbitrary decision, many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities will now have to wait longer for their opportunity for a vaccine. This sudden abandonment of a reasoned, science-based approach to vaccination, is as unexpected as it is disappointing,” they wrote in the email.
Lamont seems committed to the new guidelines, which he said should at least give residents who expected to be in the next phase a clear expectation of when they will become eligible. After opening up to people over 55 on March 1, the state plans to expand eligibility to the 45-to-54 age group by March 22, and the 35-to-44 age group starting April 12. Lamont said he expects that everyone over 16 will be eligible on May 3.
“It’s a promise that we hope to be able to keep,” he said.