With Connecticut still leading the nation for resident COVID-19 vaccination rates, Gov. Ned Lamont is now looking ahead to how the state will roll out the vaccine for children aged 12-15 starting later this week when he anticipates the age group will have the full okay to be vaccinated.
The governor’s Monday afternoon (May 10) press conference ended only minutes before news broke that the FDA officially lowered the minimum age individuals can receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to 12 years, and authorized its emergency use in adolescents.
When providers will begin administering vaccines to children younger than 15 years old will depend on whether the Pfizer vaccine also receives a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) when it meets this Wednesday, May 12.
President Joe Biden said last week that his administration is “ready to move immediately to make about 20,000 pharmacy sites across the country ready to vaccinate those adolescents as soon as the FDA grants its OK.”
Lamont is eager for that to happen too.
“If we can do as well with that age group as we’re doing with the 16 and 17 year olds, it is going to be a very good summer,” he said
State officials say the state is in “good shape” with enough Pfizer vaccine available in preparation to begin providing doses to 12-15 year olds by this Thursday.
“The short answer is yes, our providers did in many cases request additional Pfizer vaccines this week in preparation for 12-15 year olds being authorized later this week. We’ll be very well prepared for that additional expansion of eligibility,” said Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer.
He added that health providers are ready to hit the ground running immediately after ACIP gives its okay when it’s expected to meet Wednesday afternoon or evening.
“We’re not sure, but potentially there could be guidance given at night. And if that’s the case, our providers will be ready the following day [Thursday, May 13]. So, we’ll be ready to go essentially as soon as we get clear guidance and direction from the federal government, and the necessary instructions for our providers. We’ll be ready to go right away,” Geballe said.
Based on what officials have learned from vaccinating 16-17 year olds is that providers likely will see the influx of 12-15 year olds and their families this weekend.
“When parental consent from a guardian is required, which will be the case for the 12-15 year olds, weekends are really the preferred option. So we’ll have a lot of expanded access this weekend coming up, both at our mass vaccination sites, but also at pharmacies. And a number of local health departments are going to do clinics. So there will be a lot of options available for parents and their children who want to get vaccinated in the next week,” Geballe explained.
Wilton’s Health Department has not been able to provide Pfizer vaccines for any past town-sponsored clinics because its health provider partner, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County, does not have the necessary refrigeration capability. As a result, Wilton will not be hosting any specific clinics for adolescents or any other people. [Editor’s note: the Wilton Health Department has suspended vaccine clinics as demand has dropped and vaccines are widely available elsewhere.]
Can Vaccinations be Mandatory–for Schools or Daycare?
While Lamont said there are no plans now to require anyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in order to attend public or private schools or licensed daycare programs in CT, he acknowledged the question “keeps coming up.”
He’s hesitant to issue any mandates, but he said he wouldn’t rule it out.
“It’s my least popular option, but I think people have got to be vaccinated and getting back into that classroom. I’m going to have a hard time getting teachers into that classroom if people aren’t vaccinated,” Lamont said, acknowledging the criteria would be different in grades for children to young to be vaccinated. “That’s where we’re going to require the masks at least through the end of this school year, and we’ll see where we are next year.”
For anyone eligible, voluntarily getting the vaccine is preferable, he added.
“Get vaccinated. That answers all these questions. That means that you can go to the restaurant safely. You don’t have to worry about who’s been vaccinated, who hasn’t. You can go to school safely. We don’t have to worry about you don’t feel safe so you’ve got to go remote learning. If people get vaccinated like they do for all the other vaccines, we’re going to be in very good shape,” Lamont said.
Lamont Confident Adolescent Vaccination Rate will Follow the State’s Lead
The governor isn’t worried that parents might be hesitant to vaccinate children younger than the currently eligible 16-18 year olds.
“Connecticut is a real leader in terms of overall young people getting vaccinated, and people in general getting the flu shot, which is voluntary. So, while it was a lot of noise in and around vaccinations, I think over time you’re going to see more and more people, the confidence to know that allows their kid to get back to school safely,” Lamont said.
He pointed to the success the state has had getting residents to voluntarily be immunized, both in COVID vaccination rates and what that means for COVID-19 case data–numbers, the governor said, that are “still very good and continue to trend in the right direction.”
“[The] seven-day [case] average [is] less than 2%–1.4% for the last three days; hospitalizations [are] the lowest in seven-plus months. So we’re making good progress there. And this is all a precondition of we’re going to get things reopened next week in a significant way. Probably our last step of reopening. These numbers help pave the way. Again, that’s because people are getting vaccinated, for which CT continues to be a leader. And that’s thanks to each and every one of you,” Lamont said.
Of the total CT population, 57% of all residents have been vaccinated. Breaking down the age group vaccination rates supports what the governor believes:
- 16- and 17-year olds: 50% vaccinated
- 18-24 year olds: 45%
- 18-and-above: 71% vaccinated
- 45-and-above: 80% vaccinated
- 65-and-above: 92% vaccinated
He said that the state is “in pretty good shape” for herd immunity among the 45-and-older age group, combining the 80% vaccination rate with those who were previously infected over the last year or have some antibodies.
As a result of the rising vaccination rates, case rates are dropping off, and Lamont said that trend needs to continue.
“We got to still keep our pedal to the metal on this, working with our younger people,” he said, before promoting an upcoming program that will provide one free drink at participating bars to fully vaccinated residents.
“Drinks on us, get ready, because that’s coming next week, [so] get vaccinated,” Lamont said.
Will Mask Restrictions Lift on May 19?
The governor said that while business restrictions are being relaxed next week, he isn’t rushing to completely wave indoor mask-wearing requirements.
“My thought is, the 19th next week, we’re going to relax really all the business restrictions. We still have a significant number of our younger people are not vaccinated. So we’re going to have to think a little bit seriously about indoor masking a little bit longer, at least for that cohort. But I think we’ll have some good news within a week,” Lamont said.
Stop and Shop Makes Vaccine Available at Wilton Center location
Stop and Shop Pharmacy in Wilton Center will have days when vaccination doses will be available, with a limited number of same-day appointments that can be scheduled online. To schedule an appointment in Wilton (or any other Stop & Shop location) visit the website.
Pharmacies are currently providing the single-dose Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine or the two-dose Moderna series. Both vaccines are authorized for people aged 18-and-older.
Lamont signed into law legislation that extends for another two years the relaxed telehealth services provisions that he previously enacted through an emergency executive order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Telehealth services enable healthcare providers to interact with patients, including those with Medicaid coverage, by using electronic methods, such as videoconferencing and telephones, without needing to meet in person.
When the pandemic began in March 2020, Lamont issued Executive Order No. 7G, to temporarily relax certain state laws that regulate these services, thereby enabling more patients to use telehealth. The legislation Lamont signed Monday, House Bill 5596, allows the relaxed rules enacted through his executive order to remain in place through at least June 30, 2023.
“Throughout the last year, patients across Connecticut have found that connecting with their medical providers through videoconference or telephone has been incredibly beneficial and practical for a wide variety of reasons, so it absolutely makes sense to allow for these services to continue,” Lamont said. “Making it easier for people to connect with their doctors or medical advisors is a goal that we should strive to attain. I appreciate the state legislature for recognizing the benefits of the emergency executive order that I signed at the beginning of the pandemic, and I appreciate their bipartisan cooperation in passing this legislation so that I could sign this into law today and these relaxed telehealth rules can continue.”
The extended services include:
Allows expanded types of providers and licensed professions to provide telehealth services, such as dentists, behavioral analysists, music therapists, art therapists, physician assistance, physical therapist assistance, and occupational therapy assistants;
Permits the use of telehealth services by audio-only without requiring video; and
Permits licensed providers in other states to provide telehealth services to Connecticut residents as long as they have the minimum professional liability insurance coverage.