On Feb. 23, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a massive change to the way our state handles eligibility for the Coronavirus vaccine. Before the 23rd, eligibility was determined based on occupation and other risk factors like pre-existing conditions and age. But in a press conference that surprised the vaccine advisory board, Lamont announced that he believed the CDC’s guidelines to be too expansive and therefore decided an age-based approach would be easier to execute.
The new plan divides the ages that hadn’t been eligible yet into four groups, 55 to 64, 45 and older, 35 and older and 18 to 34, which will gradually become eligible over the next three months, from March through May. While it is understandable that this plan will make it easier to determine who is or is not eligible, as age is a rather cut and dry form of measurement, this plan leaves out those who are younger — in perhaps the 18-34 year old category who will get their vaccines in May — but are at high risk due to a pre-existing condition or a high-risk occupation.
The state’s vaccine advisory board, whose recommendation was not followed in this decision, expressed some frustration and surprise. According to an article by the Connecticut Mirror, “The move by the governor stunned some members of the panel’s allocation subcommittee, a group tasked with providing crucial advice on who should receive a coronavirus shot and when. Members had suggested that people 16 and older with underlying health conditions and “essential workers” such as grocery store employees and postal staff be next in line.”
While workers being left behind is a huge issue, people with existing health issues are also being left behind. People who are chronically ill or disabled often have far higher risks of getting a severe case of COVID-19 or death due to it than the general population. Now, younger people who have pre-existing conditions must wait until they’re able to be vaccinated alongside healthy people in their age range who don’t have an increased risk.
Those are the same people who have, in many cases, been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, forced to isolate themselves completely or as much as possible in order to avoid exposure because exposure for them could so easily mean death. Many disabled people have reported having virtually no interaction with people they don’t live with in the last year and many Americans in general have reported having to miss things like important doctor’s appointments.
Higher-risk residents around the country deserve to be able to get the vaccine over people who statistically are at a far lower risk of severe infection or death. Perhaps making this decision even worse and more surprising is the fact that until the announcement, higher risk people were constantly told they were the next group since the beginning.
Since we’ve hit March, it’s now been a year since the beginning of this pandemic and life has only gotten harder for front-line workers and disabled or chronically ill people. COVID-19 is clearly not going anywhere any time soon, and while ideally everyone will be able to be vaccinated soon and that is the direction the country is working towards, people are going to die in the meantime.
The best way to minimize those deaths is by making sure the people who are most at risk of dying are also those who are able to get the vaccines as soon as humanly possible. Prioritizing those people and then moving on to prioritize other people on an age-based schedule is the best way to both ensure that every resident is vaccinated and to ensure that we keep every single person possible alive.
The Governor’s new vaccine plan ignores the CDC’s recommendations, the recommendations of his own advisory board and the plans that he himself has been stating for months in order to change directions to a plan that has the sole purpose of making giving hundreds of thousands of vaccines easier. Unfortunately, that’s not a process that is ever going to be easy, no matter how much we try to prioritize it; so why not focus on saving lives instead of saving time?