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November 20, 2020

State’s vaccine panel weighs who should be first in line for COVID vaccine

Photo | CT MIrror

At least 10 of Connecticut’s 27 acute care hospitals have the “ultracold” storage needed to stow the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer – which must be kept at a temperature between -112 to -76 degrees Fahrenheit – and all hospitals that are part of a larger health system have indicated they have access to the icy storage and a means of transport for the immunizations, a state health official said Thursday.

Several other hospitals have signaled their intent to purchase the freezers, Kathy Kudish, immunization program manager for the Department of Public Health, told members of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group. Five said they do not have access to that type of storage.

The vaccine panel is preparing for the arrival of at least two experimental coronavirus vaccines, examining the science behind the immunizations, analyzing who should receive the first doses and devising strategies for public outreach.

Pfizer announced this week that its coronavirus vaccine is 95% effective beginning 28 days after the first dose. Two doses are needed, and should be taken at least 21 days apart. No serious side effects were reported in its Phase 3 clinical trial, which enrolled more than 43,000 participants.

The other vaccine is being developed by Moderna. The company this week said its COVID-19 immunization is 94.5% effective. Two doses are required, at least 28 days apart. The vaccine must be stored at -13 degrees to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures that a standard freezer typically can reach. No serious side effects were reported in its Phase 3 trial, which included more than 30,000 participants.

Kudish said that 15 million to 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to be available in the U.S. by the end of December, “which will mean about 165,000 to 220,000 doses for Connecticut.” Pfizer is expected to make 20 million to 30 million doses available in the U.S. by late December, she said, of which Connecticut would receive 220,000 to 330,000.

The Moderna shots will be shipped by a central distributor under a federal government contract, she said, the same one used to distribute immunizations under Connecticut’s Vaccines for Children program.

Members of the panel who are helping to decide who should receive the first immunizations are reviewing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has suggested that medical staff, such as intensive care and emergency department employees, workers in long-term care facilities, home health aides, emergency medical technicians, dentists, and staffers assigned to COVID-19 units, should receive priority.

Nichelle Mullins, president and CEO of Charter Oak Health Center and head of the panel’s allocation subcommittee, said members are considering age, co-morbidities, level of exposure, and the number of patients that employees see when recommending who should get the vaccine first. Other populations that could receive priority are people who care for relatives in multifamily homes and those in congregate living facilities.

Community spread (hot spots) may also be a factor, Mullins said, and members are trying to decide how to handle “essential” workers who are employed in Connecticut but live in another state.

“We know that we have a large workforce that comes from Massachusetts and New York,” she said.

Group members tasked with outreach said Thursday they are mulling over how to connect with different communities, including people in rural areas, people with disabilities, and people who may be vaccine hesitant.

The aim is to convey the importance of the vaccine and explain why certain people will be able to get it while others have to wait, said Sen. Heather Somers, head of the communications subcommittee.

“What’s the appropriate way of communicating? Is it through a PSA? Is it through written materials? Is it through having a particular messenger go into an area? Is it through our community health care workers?” Somers said. “Those are the things that we’re looking at right now.”

The panel will continue meeting during the coming months as more specifics about a national vaccine rollout become available. It eventually will submit its recommendations to Gov. Ned Lamont. The next meeting is Dec. 17.

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