WATERBURY, CT – Educators were spared when Gov. Ned Lamont flipped the script on his COVID-19 vaccination plan this week and it was with educators that he appeared Thursday to highlight the city’s teacher vaccination plan.
The governor exited City Hall with local officials and teachers. The smell of burnt plastic hung in the air and dark smoke lingered above the city, the result of a scrapyard fire burning two miles uptown.
But even after he was temporarily shouted down by a lone heckler, a man screaming about the “tyranny” of an unrelated legislative proposal, Lamont was determined to present an optimistic front.
“Spring is coming. Spring is in the air. Vaccines are going to make this [pandemic] something in our rearview mirror very soon and teachers, I can’t wait to see you in the classrooms,” he said.
Beginning Monday, Waterbury will start scheduling vaccination appointments for nearly 4,000 eligible education professionals, Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said. At the moment, the city has 500 doses set aside for the group.
“We’ll get there. We may not get there as quick as we’d like to – we’re ready to go 24/7, we really are – we just don’t have the vaccines,” O’Leary said.
High demand and limited doses has been a persistent issue since the state began rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December.
But the supply of shots is climbing. Connecticut received about 46,000 a week early in the rollout. The state’s weekly allotment has grown to about 100,000, Lamont said Thursday. Next week, he’s expecting 30,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine after it’s approved for emergency use.
Even if allocations continue to expand, there are not yet enough doses for everyone wishing to take the shot and this week Lamont made a jarring correction to how the available doses would be prioritized.
Rather than continue to adhere to federal recommendations and offer vaccines to essential workers and the medically vulnerable, Connecticut will — with the exception of educators — allocate the shots according to age. Next Monday, state officials will lower the eligible age threshold from 65 to 55.
The move simplifies the rollout and Lamont argues that age is the best predictor of serious outcomes from COVID-19. But the change has outraged frontline workers, people with comorbidities, and advocates for people with disabilities. Those groups expected to be among the next vaccinated until Monday, when the governor suddenly changed course.
Since then, Lamont has been making the case among populations who stand to benefit from his new plan. He addressed the Connecticut AARP during an online forum Wednesday and met with educators Thursday. Waterbury Teachers Association President Kevin Egan called the change a “huge win for both teachers and students.”
“This proposal from the governor will now produce less sickness, less quarantine, less stress and ultimately more teachers in front of our students,” Egan said.
But while everyone spoke in support of the governor’s plan, more than one speaker acknowledged the change had upset some constituents.
“There’s going to be a pecking order. We may agree or not agree but there’s no disagreement when it comes to our educators,” Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., D- Waterbury, said. “My grandkids need to get back to school. I’m too tired to keep watching them.”
O’Leary defended the governor for his willingness to make difficult choices.
“Honestly, there have been very few decisions that he’s made during this pandemic that have been easy and we know that,” O’Leary said.