“Just follow the CDC guidance.”
That is what Wilton resident Deborah List is petitioning Governor Ned Lamont to do in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout process that is now underway in Connecticut.
The CDC has clearly defined what it believes should be the prioritization for vaccine distribution. Under the CDC’s guidance, frontline essential workers and people over the age of 75 were the highest priority to receive the vaccine, followed by people aged 65-74 and those aged 16-64 with serious underlying medical conditions.
Actual plans for administering the vaccines are left to the states to determine. Initially, it appeared Connecticut, like most states, would follow the CDC guidance. Vaccines were first made available to those in the 75-and-over age group, followed by those age 65-74. But on Feb. 22 Gov. Lamont announced a revised rollout plan, which came as a surprise to many people, but especially those with underlying conditions who were anticipating they would be next in line.
Other than giving priority status to teachers, school staff and childcare workers, the new rollout plan was based strictly on age. People over age 55 would become eligible March 1, followed by 45-54 year-olds on March 22, 35-44 year-olds on April 12, and 16-43 year-olds on May 3.
Medical conditions were simply not among the criteria in Lamont’s revised vaccine plan.
For List, that change hit home. Her 16-year-old son, Luke Schwartz, a Wilton High School student, was diagnosed last summer with a very rare form of cancer. Effectively, the new plan makes him ineligible to receive a vaccine until May.
Considering any exposure to the COVID-19 virus would be life-threatening for Luke, all members of List’s household (including two other children and her husband) have been following the strictest COVID protocols from the beginning. List refers to their stay-home environment as “our bubble,” which includes homeschooling for all three children, and only going in public for grocery shopping and necessary medical appointments.
Hearing the revised rollout plan was “surreal,” List said. “Nobody was expecting that change.”
According to List, “nobody” includes state Senator Will Haskell and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, with whom List says she personally discussed the new vaccine plan immediately after the rollout announcement.
Sen. Haskell told GMW he has spoken with “many families that were impacted by the Governor’s decision,” including List, and he is sympathetic to those with the medical conditions that put them at such high risk of COVID-19 complications. However, he said, “the vaccine distribution plan is entirely the prerogative of the Executive Branch.”
Haskell says he has directed his efforts toward the state’s department of public health. “I’ve shared with the department how the age-based system has impacted some of my constituents” but “I don’t believe they are contemplating any exceptions at this time,” he added.
GMW also reached out to Sen. Blumenthal for comment, but did not receive a response as of publication time.
Even as the new vaccine plans rolls out, List believes the general public is not fully cognizant of the impact it will have on those with medical conditions. “Most people don’t realize we are no longer prioritizing high risk [individuals] in Connecticut,” she said.
Shortly after Lamont’s rollout announcement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about it at a press conference. Psaki said, “We make recommendations at the federal level for a reason, because there are groups that we feel should be prioritized.”
Psaki stopped short of saying that Lamont should reverse the plan he announced, acknowledging that governors have the authority to determine their vaccine rollout plans. “Obviously, governors make different choices about the prioritization and the prioritization order. But we stand by the guidelines we’ve recommended at a national level,” said Psaki.
Those CDC guidelines would put people with serious medical conditions at higher priority than healthy older individuals. List’s petition cites the medical conditions which the CDC has defined as increasing the risk of life-threatening complications from COVID-19:
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Down Syndrome
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher)
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
The petition also refers to numerous other medical conditions which the CDC says “may be” higher risk factors for COVID-19 complications (such as hypertension, immune deficiencies, cystic fibrosis, and several other conditions), thus warranting prioritization for the vaccine as well.
In his Feb. 22 announcement, Lamont defended his approach with the fact that COVID-19 deaths in Connecticut are most correlated with age. In fact, 96 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Connecticut have been people over the age of 55.
While calling his revised plan for Connecticut “the most equitable and efficient approach to quickly administering the COVID-19 vaccine,” Lamont criticized the CDC guidance as “overly complex and confusing” and said it “would potentially exacerbate inequities in vaccine distribution, and slow down the process of providing it to Connecticut residents.”
Lamont says using age as the sole criterion will expedite the process of getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, since vaccine administrators will not be put in a position of having to verify patients’ medical status. The rationale is, the more people get vaccinated quickly, the lower the risk will be to all residents.
But List is not the only one pressing Lamont to reverse his decision. Disability Rights Connecticut, a non-profit advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut, claiming discrimination against people with disabilities who also have conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. The lawsuit calls on Connecticut to “immediately revise its COVID-19 vaccine policy to include individuals with underlying medical conditions, regardless of their age… as a priority in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Short of that, the group also seeks “a process for people with disabilities to request and obtain reasonable modifications” to the state’s age-based vaccine eligibility policy.
List believes the petition is getting more attention and support every day, and is hopeful that Gov. Lamont will reverse his decision without delay, for the sake of her son and others with serious medical conditions.
List said, “It’s not just about Luke. There’s lots of Lukes out there.”
Read List’s petition in its entirety on Change.org.
There is no scheme for vaccine delivery that will not leave some vunerable populations at the side of the road. But it seems wrong that healthy teachers under age 55 are now receiving vaccinations (at special clinics, no less) while this young man – a 16 year old cancer patient – may have to wait until May.
I can only imagine how hard this has been for Luke’s family. I would have preferred that the cases like his be included with the elderly at the beginning. But CT is doing a great job getting our citizens vaccinated. We are getting more doses allocated, and using them more efficiently. CT is one of the top states and will have a majority of our residents vaccinated well before most states. The students/teachers should have been an early priority in my opinion because the impact on the mental health of the children and families, the education of the kids, and the economy cannot be underestimated. We will all feel the societal effects. Many families can’t afford a tutor, sitter, or to leave their job (if they still have one). I agree that many pre-existing conditions could have been added earlier, regardless of age. But I think it’s very smart to include lower ages and kids asap. And eliminate smoking as a pre-existing criteria. Let’s get this done. Hoping Luke has his one dose vaccine ASAP and no later than May 3.
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