Connecticut officials said the state was well-positioned to begin vaccinating residents as young as age 12 ahead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Monday announcement it had approved the emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents.
News of the FDA’s decision to expand the age eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people 12 to 15 years old broke just after Gov. Ned Lamont’s press briefing on the state COVID-19 situation. Members of the administration said they were prepared for the expansion, which had been expected Wednesday.
“We’ll be ready to go essentially as soon as we get clear guidance and direction from the federal government and the necessary instruction for our providers, we’ll be ready to go right away,” Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said.
In Connecticut, the FDA’s announcement means about 177,000 additional residents are eligible to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Geball said state providers requested more doses of the Pfizer formula this week in anticipation of the announcement. The vaccine had previously been approved for teens 16 to 18 years old. Providers require parental consent to vaccinate anyone under 18 years old and have found that many parents prefer to have their children vaccinated over weekends, Geballe said.
“We’ll have a lot of expanded access this weekend coming up, both at our mass vaccination sites but also at pharmacies and a number of local health departments are going to do clinics. So there will be a lot of options available for parents and their children who want to get vaccinated in the next week,” Geballe said.
Officials reported that half of all residents in the 16-to-18 group have been vaccinated. Lamont thanked parents for opting to vaccinate their kids. He said it made “a big difference.”
“That maybe is a harbinger of good things to come when it comes to the next round,” he said. “If we can do as well with [12 to 15 year-olds] as we’re doing with the 16- and 17-year-olds, it is going to be a very good summer.”
Acting Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said the state was working with school districts to provide vaccination information to families and get parental consent forms from those willing.
“There’s something to be said about kids being able to gather together — their own peer pressure amongst each other, to be able to stand in line to get their shots,” Russell-Tucker said.
Asked whether he would consider requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for Connecticut students age 12 and over, the governor said he did not favor the option but he declined to rule it out.
“It’s my least popular option but I think people have got to be vaccinated getting back into that classroom,” Lamont said. “I’m going to have a hard time getting teachers into that classroom if people aren’t vaccinated. Obviously for the younger grades that’s different. That’s why we’re going to require the masks at least through the end of this school year and we’ll see where we are next year.
The FDA’s announcement came after Lamont reported that Connecticut’s recent trends of low COVID-19 indicators continued through the weekend. The positivity rate sat at 1.41% and hospitalizations declined by 29 patients to 280. Lamont said it was the lowest in seven months.
The governor said the dwindling indicators were a good sign as May 19 draws closer. On that date, the state will lift all remaining COVID restrictions with the exception of an indoor mask requirement in public spaces. Asked by a reporter whether Connecticut residents could expect a return to “normal” any time this summer, Lamont sounded optimistic.
“If we can keep this trend going for another month in terms of people being vaccinated, I feel pretty confident,” Lamont said. The warmer weather will likely contribute to an ongoing decline in COVID cases, he said. “I feel pretty good about that. The fall, we’ll see if there are variants or anything that make us worry, but right now I think it’s a good summer.”