Yale Daily News

Although Connecticut has been receiving fewer COVID-19 vaccines than expected, the Yale New Haven Health system has already announced the opening of 12 public coronavirus vaccination sites, which will be located across the state from Greenwich to New London.

These new sites began to open last Thursday and will continue to open throughout the week, with the last among them starting to vaccinate people on Jan. 27. According to Ohm Deshpande, the physician-lead for the YNHHS vaccination taskforce, the sites’ locations were selected to optimize accessibility for all state residents, regardless of where they live or whether or not they have a car. Those who qualify for vaccination under Connecticut’s phase 1b guidelines — which, as described on the state’s website, currently includes individuals 75 and older — can schedule their appointments on the YNHHS website, where openings are constantly being updated according to vaccine availability.

“We view vaccination as part of our fundamental mission to support our community as we care for them, as we have throughout the pandemic,” Deshpande told the News. “We chose these sites to ensure that we have some geographic availability where we take care of patients.”

Because having people enter the hospital to get their shots could pose a risk of COVID-19 exposure, YNHHS is not vaccinating anyone who is not a health care worker at its hospitals. Instead, on Thursday, the system opened vaccination sites in North Haven, Trumbull, Fairfield, Greenwich, Old Saybrook and New London.

On Friday, two large, high-throughput sites were also opened in collaboration with the University: one at the Lanman Center and the other at Yale’s West Campus in Orange. On Monday, new sites will be opening up at the Parsons Center, the Brunswick School and Floyd Little Fieldhouse — the last of which will be shared with the city of New Haven. The final site to open this week will be at Mitchell College, on Wednesday.

Although YNHHS has the capacity to vaccinate more people, the rate at which they do so is limited by the federal dispatch of vaccines. In a press conference on Jan. 20, YNHHS Chief Medical Officer Thomas Balcezak said that Connecticut is receiving significantly fewer doses than needed from the federal government. He calculated that in order to meet the state’s goal of vaccinating approximately 80 percent of its adult population over the next five months, 280,000 individuals will need to be immunized each week. According to Fox61 and as of Jan. 15, the Yale New Haven Hospital is currently administering approximately 7,000 vaccines each week in the Elm City, in collaboration with the New Haven Health Department.

While YNHHS is prepared to “easily scale up” to anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 vaccinations per week, Balcezak explained, without a sufficient supply of vaccines, the state and the system could fall short of their immunization goals.

“It’s a herculean task, and it’s also a challenge when the supply chain for the vaccine is not always clear,” YNHHS CEO Marna Borgstrom said in the Jan. 20 press conference.

Deshpande highlighted that YNHHS, the University and the city of New Haven have been successful in vaccinating health care workers during phase 1a, but as they transition to administering shots to people aged 75 and over in phase 1b, many more doses will be required.

To scale up vaccinations according to plan, Balcezak estimates that the system will need roughly 10 times the number of doses they are currently receiving, which varies every week but has been ranging from 2,000 to 10,000.

“We have the staff, we have the technology, we have the pharmacists, we have the nurses, what we need is vaccines,” Balcezak said.

According to Deshpande, the system has been asking the state government for more clarity about where the vaccines distributed to Connecticut are going within the state, as well as discussing with the state how to best advocate at the federal level for the state to receive more doses.

Physical logistics are not an issue at the moment when it comes to vaccinations, Deshpande said. While staffing vaccination sites has been an ongoing operational challenge, YNHHS has put together a team that is working to ensure that the vaccination sites are sufficiently staffed.

To Deshpande, one of the major issues of vaccine distribution so far is a lack of clarity from the state to YNHHS about who is eligible to get the vaccine. According to The CT Mirror, on Jan. 14, Gov. Ned Lamont said that Connecticut will be expanding phase 1b to include those between the ages of 65 and 75, as well as those between the ages of 16 and 64 who have comorbidities. Deshpande explained that when changes like these happen, some challenges may occur.

One potential issue is that YNHHS may not have enough doses immediately to match the increase in the number of eligible people. Another concern is that the availability of appointments may become more limited as more people are allowed to schedule their vaccinations, according to Deshpande.

“If we get ten times more vaccines than we are getting in the state of Connecticut, then we have no problems, we’ll scale up, we’ll vaccinate, it’ll be wonderful,” Deshpande said. “But if they just say, ‘Okay, 65 and over can go,’ then I worry a lot about vulnerable patients being essentially crowded out by people who can navigate our technology or have the resources in some way to get themselves scheduled.”

A map of YNHHS’s COVID-19 vaccination sites can be accessed here.

Maria Fernanda Pacheco | maria.pacheco@yale.edu

Correction, Feb. 28: A previous version of this article misspelled Deshpandes name. The story has been updated.