Lamont: 'We need more vaccines' to ramp up COVID shots

Photo of Peter Yankowski

Connecticut has the resources and capacity to ramp up COVID vaccinations, but the state needs more doses, Gov. Ned Lamont said.

“There’s one choke point: we need more vaccines,” Lamont said Thursday.

Lamont said he felt he could now explain to the President Joe Biden administration the importance of accelerating vaccine production.

“We in Connecticut — and I think increasingly in other states — have the capacity to vaccinate a lot more people if we had it,” the governor said.

The state has been receiving about 46,000 first doses of vaccine each week through federal distribution channels, though this week an extra 50,000 will arrive. At the same time, large health care providers, pharmacies and health departments are ramping up. They now have a combined ability to inoculate more than 100,000 people a week and the capacity is growing by the day.

Lamont said he spoke with leaders of Pfizer, the source for most of Connecticut’s vaccines, and was told the company could double its output by the end of February, and then double it again by the end of March.

The extra 50,000 doses this week appears to be “a one-shot deal,” Lamont said. He had expressed hope the state would see the higher numbers every week.

“I’ve heard from a couple governors on this, my sense is we’re going to go back to a normal course of business now,” he said.

Some residents have also experienced difficulty scheduling an appointment. The actress Mia Farrow, who’s 75, tweeted at Lamont on Thursday that she spent nearly two hours scheduling an appointment in March, and then had to register online again and find a new appointment in February two hours away from her home.

“Process is an unnecessarily complex labyrinth,” she wrote.

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the first identified COVID-19 case in the United States, in the state of Washington. “The patient recently returned from Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of pneumonia caused by this novel coronavirus has been ongoing since December 2019,” the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a release on Jan. 21, 2020.

Those eligible for the vaccine can either call 877-918-2224, or sign up directly through one of four providers as of Thursday: UConn Health, Hartford HealthCare, Yale New Haven Health, and Walgreens. Patients can also register through the state’s website to use the federal Vaccine Administration Management System to schedule an appointment.

Some 258,267 doses of the two federally-authorized vaccines have been administered in Connecticut. Of those, 226,930 have received their first shot, and 31,337 have received a second and final dose.

Lamont said some 47,000 people 75 and over have now received the vaccine.

The state began allowing those who are 75 and older to register for an appointment last week. People ages 65 to 74 are slated to go next sometime in early February. That group will be followed in late February to early March by front-line essential workers and those with medical conditions that put them more at risk for the virus.

Asked when he expects to take the vaccine, Lamont, who is 67, indicated he would wait his turn. “I think my age group comes up in the next couple weeks and I probably would take advantage then,” he said.

Lamont also indicated on Thursday he would seek to extend some or all of his COVID-19 executive orders, which are set to expire on Feb. 9.

Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, said the administration has contacted legislative leaders for informal discussions regarding the orders, but said no official discussion has occurred.

Lamont said he did not think it would be beneficial to have all of his executive orders expire in less than three weeks, but suggested he would be open to the legislature voting down any orders they feel go too far.

“As I said before, the legislature granted me this authority because of the real-time decisions we had to make,” the governor said. But if lawmakers find they don’t like some of those decisions, “cast a vote on them,” he said.

The state announced Thursday two more cases have been identified of the highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first seen in the U.K.

Max Reiss, Lamont’s chief spokesman, said both cases involved family members of one of the two people previously identified as having the variant two weeks ago. Reiss said both of the new cases were confirmed through genome testing.

Connecticut reported 48 more deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll to 6,774. The additional deaths came as Biden has warned the country’s death toll could exceed 500,000 next month.

On Thursday, Connecticut recorded 1,662 new COVID-19 cases, found out of 38,957 new tests for a daily positivity rate of 4.27 percent.

There were 55 fewer hospitalizations recorded on Thursday, dropping the statewide total to 1,069.

As in previous weeks, nearly all of Connecticut — 164 of 169 municipalities — are considered red-alert zones under the state’s color-coded map indicating where infections are high. The map is based on the number of new infections per 100,000 over the past 14 days.

Only a swath of largely rural communities in northwestern Litchfield County are in the “gray” alert status: Canaan, Colebrook, Cornwall, Norfolk and Warren.

Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said Connecticut plans to begin vaccinating residents of congregate facilities in the next week. Elderly prison inmates will start being vaccinated “sooner rather than later,” he said.

Some cases of the virus have also been reported by colleges as students return for the spring semester. The University of Connecticut, which required students returning to dorms in Storrs and Stamford to test twice, reported one new case on campus at Storrs Thursday.

The university found 76 cases among students earlier in the week through re-entry surveillance testing. Most of those cases were asymptomatic, a spokeswoman for the school said.