Regina Sung, Contributing Photographer
Connecticut became the first state to vaccinate half of its adults against COVID-19 earlier this month, with New Haven being the second most vaccinated city in the entire state. In order to achieve this, the city has grappled with vaccine hesitancy and accessibility in a city whose injustices have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
On Dec. 14, after ten months dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of New Haven began vaccinating its residents. The Food and Drug Administration provided an emergency approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine was approved for emergency use on Dec. 18.
“This vaccine is safe, it’s effective and it is the way out of this pandemic,” Yale New Haven Health System’s Chief Clinical Officer Thomas Balcezak said at a virtual press conference during the week vaccinations began. “It is critically important that everyone in the state of Connecticut gets this vaccine, and across the country, because this is the way that we will stop the spread of this pandemic and stop the spread of this disease.”
Following the state’s vaccine distribution plan, Phase 1a began with healthcare professionals, including medical students, and residents 75 years and older in the city. Administrators soon realized that, despite Black and Brown communities in New Haven having higher rates of contagion for COVID-19, predominantly white residents who were over 75 years old were signing up for the vaccine. Assistant Professor of Medicine Brita Roy called it a phenomenon that has partly to do with “hesitancy” and partly “to do with access.”
To address the issue of access, clinics in the city expanded their hours so both day and night workers have the opportunity to get vaccinated, while vaccine administration sites have opened in low-income neighborhoods throughout Connecticut. The nation’s first FEMA mobile vaccination unit came to New Haven as part of its 17-municipality trip through Connecticut. This also formed part of state-level efforts to increase accessibility and encourage vaccinations throughout the state.
Communities of color nationwide have been historically exploited or underrepresented in biomedical research, which has led to increased vaccine hesitancy from some of the most vulnerable groups. In order to address this hesitancy, the Board of Alders hosted a series of events throughout the city as vaccines became available explaining the vaccines and urging vulnerable communities throughout the city to get their vaccine.
Even within the medical school, some students were concerned about potentially long-term side effects of the vaccine and raised alarm about how little research has been done on it. A News piece explained the process of emergency medical approval. Despite this, a large majority of students were enthusiastic about the shot and the potential to return back to normal.
“If you had told me in March that I would be getting a vaccine in the same year, just nine months later, I would not have believed you,” Nadeen Hussain, a second-year internal medicine resident at Yale New Haven Hospital, told the News. “Actually getting the first shot in my arm in December of this year was just incredible, I feel so fortunate.”
By Feb. 1, the Connecticut Department of Correction began vaccinating inmates throughout the state. Since the start of the pandemic, 4,486 inmates have tested positive for the virus. Inmate advocacy groups such as Stop Solitary Connecticut, The Connecticut Bail Fund and the ACLU-CT urged the state of Connecticut to create a clear plan for the vaccination of inmates and correctional staff, citing the difficulty of social distancing in correctional facilities. Thus far, 4,600 inmates have been vaccinated with at least their first dose.
On April 1, vaccinations were made available to everyone above the age of 16 in Connecticut, including Yale students. As Yalies scrambled to schedule appointments, the University announced a shortage and encouraged Yalies to schedule an appointment wherever possible.
“I am having a terrible, no good, very bad time trying to schedule a vaccine,” Carlos Brown Jr. ’23 wrote in a text to the News.
Brown was not the only one experiencing this. The morning that vaccinations became available to everyone, the state’s vaccine access hotline was shut down due to high demand. Yalies found themselves making appointments wherever possible, and some even rented cars to travel around the state in search of a vaccine.
On April 13, New Haven announced it would cease the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following the CDC and FDA’s recommendation to pause its use. This recommendation was made after six cases of a rare blood clot were found nationwide after receiving the virus. No cases of the blood clot were reported in Connecticut.
Following the announcement that students were eligible for the vaccine, Chief of Student Health Christine Chen released a statement on April 16 informing students that the University would be providing Pfizer vaccines to every Yale student in New Haven. Vaccinations were provided at the Lanman Center.
In an email to the student body on April 19, University President Peter Salovey and University Provost Scott Strobel announced that all undergraduate, graduate and professional schools students who plan to return to campus in the fall must have received the vaccine prior to their return. In the second week of May, Salovey and Strobel made the announcement that faculty, staff and postdoctoral trainees will also be required to have received the vaccine. Both students and employees will have the option of applying for exemptions on religious or medical grounds.
“As we plan for this exciting transition back to campus, our top priority will continue to be the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and individuals with whom we interact outside of our campus,” Salovey and Strobel wrote in an email to the students. “A high percentage of vaccine coverage is critical for a safe return to in-person university operations.”
The state of Connecticut has administered 3,705,086 total doses of the vaccine as of May 16.