Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of public health Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

State public health officials said Monday they hope to ensure that COVID vaccine booster clinics are held in all Connecticut nursing homes by mid-December as vaccine immunity to the virus wanes in some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. 

During an afternoon update, Gov. Ned Lamont said his administration was making “a special effort” to hold booster clinics in nursing homes that had not already hosted one. 

“You know how hard they were hit a year and a half ago,” Lamont said. “We got everybody there vaccinated but that’s in many cases, six, nine months ago. Now’s the time for both the nurses as well as the residents at the nursing homes. Get your booster shot. We’re bringing it right there for you and it’s the right thing to do.” 

Nursing home residents were among the first in Connecticut to receive COVID-19 vaccines when they were first authorized nearly a year ago, a decision driven by heavy losses early in the pandemic. Josh Geballe, state chief operating officer, said many nursing homes began to offer booster clinics soon after federal regulators authorized them. 

“What we’re talking about now is some of the stragglers,” Geballe said. “As we’ve seen in the past, unfortunately some homes take a little longer to get organized. So [Public Health Commissioner Manisha] Juthani and her team are pushing those homes hard to get those clinics done.” 

During the update, Lamont said roughly 18% of eligible adults in Connecticut had so far received booster shots. But officials had difficulty estimating how many eligible nursing home residents had. By Thursday, Juthani said she expected about 70% of facilities in the state would have held booster clinics. She said around 95% of residents at facilities with clinics generally take the shot. 

“We are very much on target on this,” Juthani said. “This isn’t something that just started in the last couple weeks. The homes have been doing this. Many of them are already done, as I mentioned. But we are well on track to make sure this population is protected.”

In recent weeks, COVID infection rates have remained elevated in Connecticut and elsewhere in the northeast region. Connecticut reported more than 2,000 new cases over the weekend at an infection rate of 3.53%. Hospitalizations also climbed by 21 to 268 statewide. 

Juthani attributed elevated transmission to both the colder weather driving residents together indoors and waning vaccine protection in people who were inoculated more than six months ago. 

In addition to ramping up booster clinics, the state Public Health Department has continued to take steps to enforce a vaccine mandate on employees of health care facilities including nursing homes. Over the weekend, it announced it had issued more than $19 million in fines to 101 health care facilities that had not complied with the mandate’s reporting requirements. 

The heightened spread of the virus has already had an impact on Connecticut nursing homes. Earlier this month, Geer Village Senior Community, a nursing home in Canaan, reported a COVID outbreak during which eight residents died

During Monday’s press conference, the governor encouraged all residents who had completed their initial vaccine cycles more than six months ago to receive a booster shot before the holidays bring them in close proximity with more people. He said vaccine clinics are available at Bradley International Airport, as well as train stations in New Haven and Stamford.

“We’re much better prepared than we were a year ago, much better prepared than we’ve been,” Lamont said. “You’ve got the vaccines, got the boosters, we’ve got the masks. We’re going to get through this no question about it. Let’s make sure that the next wave is the most mild of all.”