As COVID Rates Rise, Vaccine Supply Ahead of Schedule

This week Connecticut’s daily positivity rate was at the highest it’s been since late January, but officials say that shouldn’t impact the vaccine rollout which should outpace the demand by early May.

(TNS) — A rapid acceleration of the state's vaccine rollout announced this week shows signs that by early May supply should outpace immediate demand in Connecticut for the first time.

By shifting the date for universal adult eligibility to April 5, Gov. Ned Lamont moved up access for roughly 1.3 million people, but the real number of those rushing to get appointments sits closer to half that amount, officials said.

On Tuesday, Connecticut reported a daily positivity rate of 4.96 percent, the highest it's been since late January. Hospitalizations dropped slightly to 403 statewide and deaths increased by 11 to 7,799 fatalities.

Max Reiss, chief spokesman for Lamont, pointed out that Tuesday's positivity rate was a one-day number, and said it would not impact the state's rollback of capacity limits scheduled for Friday. "The infection rates that we're seeing now are different than the infection rate we had six months ago," he said. Reiss said many of the new infections involve younger residents who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

State officials are hoping the accelerated vaccination schedule will help to quickly protect more residents.

As of Monday, about 30 percent of Connecticut's 2.9 million adult residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine. With about 2 million residents left, the question shifts to how long will it take to vaccinate all of those who want it.

In an interview Tuesday with Hearst Connecticut Media, Lamont's Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe reiterated the state anticipates those who want to get vaccinated should receive a first dose by late April or early May.

State officials have long said they anticipate demand to be roughly 60 percent of all eligible people — the remaining 40 percent they say are hesitant for a host of reasons.

The state expects the demand for those age 45 to 54, who become eligible Friday, will be about 200,000 residents. When it opens April 5 to those 16 to 44, the number jumps to 625,000 people who the state expects to immediately seek the vaccine.

There are roughly 115,000 first doses of the vaccine arriving in the state this week, and officials expect that number will rise closer to 200,000 by early April. If estimates hold, the state can offer one inoculation to everyone who wants a vaccine within six to eight weeks.

The state runs daily modeling on vaccine distribution, and when officials shifted the schedule up nearly a month for eligibility, it became clear that April 5 would be when demand among people age 45 to 54 would start waning, Geballe said.

"We'd expect by April 5 about 50 percent of that 45 to 54 group are actually vaccinated with another 10 percent with appointments scheduled," Geballe said, pointing to the 60 percent uptake.

By late April to early May, vaccine demand should wane again, according to Geballe, but with no more age groups to call upon, the strategy will shift.

"That's the point in time with roughly 200,000 first doses per week ... we would expect we would essentially cross over on supply and demand," Geballe said.

The new plan moved those age 35 to 44 up a week and those 16 to 34 up four weeks from May 3. Though the groups are now combined, those age 35 to 44 appear to remain on track to receive their vaccines by May, as anticipated in the earlier plan.

Once people receive the first shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, they must wait several weeks to get the required second dose, which extends the period for when full vaccination is reached.

The state receives about 90,000 doses a week earmarked for the second shot. Johnson & Johnson vaccines require just one dose.

This new timeline beats officials' early projections by months.

"We're hopeful that by the early fall, we would be able to have everybody who wants to be vaccinated to have received the vaccine — both doses," Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said in December when vaccines were first approved.

By Monday, the state had administered about 918,000 first doses, which includes 35,520 of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, statistics show.

In the two weeks since those 55 to 64 became eligible, the state said Monday that 40 percent of this group have received at least one dose of the vaccine. By Friday, that amount is expected to reach 50 percent — a benchmark for the transition when demand appears to diminish.

Lamont said many of the 160,000 teachers, school workers and child care professionals, who became eligible on March 3, have received at least the first dose.

But transitions to new groups continue to represent a trouble spot with limited appointments getting filled within hours by hundreds of thousands of people.

Officials continue to stress patience in the first few days of a transition to a new age group, pointing out that more appointments would show up in time.

"There will be a bit of a rush. So if you are relatively healthy, maybe you don't have to go to work every day, you can telecommute, if perhaps you think you've had some kind of a mild infection in the past, maybe don't sign up that very first few days ... we are going to have plenty of vaccines over the course of the next month," Lamont said.

While state officials showed confidence that the supply of the vaccine will grow in the coming weeks, the accelerated timeline hinges on providers.

With more than a dozen mass vaccination clinics operating across the state, providers remain confident they can handle the influx of new appointments.

"Our vaccine providers are ready to do far more. For weeks, they've been begging us for more vaccine. ... They are ready to go," Geballe said.

But by early May, when demand diminishes, the vaccine strategy shifts to get shots in the arms of those who are hesitant.

As the state pushes ahead with equitable vaccine administration, work is already underway to reach those who have not raised their hand when they have become eligible.

From outbound calls to mobile clinics and home visits, state officials believe these efforts will intensify when slots are no longer in high demand.

"We are going to see appointment slots going unused and we are going to have to redouble our efforts for the people who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated," Geballe said.

(c)2021 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.