This past week Gov. Ned Lamont announced that instead of a complex scheme of prioritizing people with pre-existing conditions, frontline workers, and other people in high-risk categories, Connecticut was switching to a vaccine schedule based on age, with health care workers and teachers the only exceptions. The backlash was immediate and fierce, especially from grocery workers and people with disabilities.
The decision took the state by surprise, especially as the governor was going against the advice of one of his vaccine subcommittees, as well as federal and state public health guidance. Lamont has made a big deal out of relying on science and evidence to inform his response to the pandemic, so what gives here?
The governor defended his decision by citing statistics that showed that most pre-existing conditions are present in the over-55 category anyway, and that the best response was likely the simplest and easiest to understand. A simpler plan would allow as many people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, so his theory goes.
Is that true? Is this actually going to work? We have absolutely no way of knowing, because it hasn’t been tried anywhere at all yet. So welcome to Ned Lamont’s science experiment, Connecticut!
The anger and frustration from people who thought they were next up for vaccine eligibility is so understandable. How would you feel if you’d been working this whole nightmare year at the Big Y, surrounded by who knows how many plague-carrying anti-maskers, only to see your shot at the miracle of a vaccine pushed back until May? If that were me, I’d probably break down and cry.
We shoved so much of the burden of the pandemic onto the backs of retail workers making a lousy wage to staff grocery stores, pharmacies, department stores and more. Without them, the country would likely have imploded. They don’t deserve statues and thanks so much as they deserve to be safe. It’s awful to think we’re asking even more of them now, right here near the end.
People with disabilities and chronic conditions are in the same boat; they were scheduled to be in the next round, but depending on their age they’ve been pushed back, as well. People with comorbidities such as chronic conditions and disability are at greater risk, and the state is now telling them they have to keep exposing themselves to that risk so that healthy older people can go first.
It’s cruel. It’s unfair. It stinks.
So why in the world did Ned Lamont make this decision?
Speed was clearly a big part of it, as I mentioned above. A simple plan will hopefully be easier to understand, and people will be able to get in line to get those shots more quickly. The other issue was that the list of comorbidities was so vast, according to Lamont, that 1.5 million people in the state would have qualified! That’s nearly half our population. How would that have worked, if half the state had suddenly been in the next round?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Lamont saw a giant mess in the making. And, you know, he’s not wrong about that. All he had to do was take a look around the rest of the country to see how bad it can get. Vaccine distribution programs in New York and Florida are having major issues, the governor told seniors last week, from long waits to crashed websites and worse.
This was less about people being unable to figure out when they qualified, I think, and way more about the ability of the state to actually carry out a more complex plan. States with far more resources, like Massachusetts, are making a hash of it. What chance did we stand?
This is all about priorities, too. Getting kids back to school helps lots of people, especially exhausted working parents, so vaccinating teachers will have a positive effect far beyond the classroom. And vaccinating more people more quickly will slow down the spread of the virus, making everyone safer in the process.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll see if the governor’s gamble pays off. If it doesn’t, he should have the wisdom and humility to admit he was wrong and change course. And as more vaccine doses become available, he should open up the exceptions list to retail workers and those with disabilities.
It’s still a lousy decision. It’s unfair, unequal, and it’s going to lead to lots and lots of frustration. It probably has a body count, too.
But, God help me, if I were in Ned Lamont’s shoes, I probably would have made the same choice.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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