Regina Sung, Contributing Photographer

Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Monday that certain medically high-risk individuals should be prioritized in the vaccine rollout, as Connecticut prepares to open vaccination appointments to all individuals 16 and older later this week.

The state is defining medically high-risk patients as residents who have a variety of conditions, including sickle cell disease, liver failure or Down syndrome. Those currently undergoing active cancer treatment or who have received a solid organ transplant are also eligible. Patients over the age of 16 who are hospitalized at the state’s two major children’s hospitals — Connecticut Children’s Hospital and Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital — and those who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities at state institutions are also part of Lamont’s list of high-risk groups. 

During Monday’s update, Lamont also mentioned a plan for Johnson & Johnson vaccination sites on college campuses in May and emphasized that amid a nationwide rebound in cases, residents should continue to comply with COVID-19 precautions.

Regarding the prioritization of high-risk groups, the state has provided no new standardization as to how hospitals and health facilities allocate vaccines to high-risk patients, aside from designating these groups as a higher priority.

“Different hospitals are going to handle this differently,” Josh Geballe, the chief operating officer for the governor, said at the press conference. “Some will do outreach directly to the patients in their system, give them some reserved appointment slots with their mass vaccination sites. Some others may do dedicated clinics and some others may just look to vaccinate patients as they come through for their normal appointments over the next week or two.”

According to Geballe, the vast majority of the high-risk patients have already received the vaccine, given that many are over the age of 45. But he said there are about 10,000 high-risk Connecticut residents who are below the age of 45 and have not yet been vaccinated.

The governor’s list of high-risk patients omits several groups of people who are included on the CDC’s list of people with underlying medical conditions. This includes people living with HIV, diabetes, dementia and cerebrovascular disease. It also includes individuals with heart conditions such as heart failure and coronary artery disease.

Geballe responded to the concern by stating the list of high-risk patients was devised with the consultation of chief medical officers at numerous hospitals, who created the state’s classification based on who they “felt [was] most worthy.” He also stressed that a person with a condition that is not on the list can still make an appointment starting April 1 through the normal process.

“I wouldn’t overread or worry too much if your condition is not on that list,” Geballe said. “It’s just a little extra invitation from hospitals for certain severely ill people to make it a little easier on them to get in.”

Geballe also clarified that medical providers are able to add people with different conditions to their list of prioritized patients.

During Monday’s update, Lamont said the state hopes to set up vaccine sites on college campuses statewide in May before students disperse for summer break, over a month after they will be eligible for a vaccine appointment. These clinics are scheduled to offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Even as vaccinations are underway, Lamont called on the state’s university students to continue acting responsibly amid the ongoing public health crisis.

In response to a question at the press conference about a recent party the police reported at the University of Connecticut, Lamont emphasized that now is an especially important time for college students to comply with social distancing protocols.

“We got a little spring fever, because it’s been a very long year,” Lamont said. “I can’t say firmly enough that we can make an enormous difference for the rest of the summer and the rest of the year going forward if we keep our guard up a little bit longer. That’s especially true of the young people who are ready to party and ready to let it rip a little bit.”

These precautions matter even more in the New Haven County area, Geballe said. The area has recently seen a more significant rise in cases than neighboring counties. New Haven County currently has 211 COVID-19 hospitalizations, up 40 percent from March 19. Fairfield County, which currently has the second most hospitalizations in the state behind New Haven County, saw a 16 percent rise over the same amount of time.

“The valley area is a bit of a hot spot right now,” Geballe said. “A lot of those individuals end up at Yale-New Haven. It’s an important area for people to be taking proper precautions to get that back down.”

While Lamont emphasized the need for caution as vaccinations move forward, he said the state will be able to “manage” any “fourth wave” of the virus that the Centers for Disease Control warned about this week as case counts rebound nationwide.

But Lamont said he thinks the state’s quick vaccination efforts would be enough to hold off a dangerous spike, especially since the state’s most vulnerable have already been vaccinated.

All adults 16 and over in Connecticut will be able to make a vaccine appointment starting April 1.

Alvaro Perpuly | alvaro.perpuly@yale.edu

Owen Tucker-Smith | owen.tucker-smith@yale.edu