DPH: Local COVID clinics should not vaccinate general public

A file photo of registered nurse Lorraine Dragwo preparing a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Conn., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

A file photo of registered nurse Lorraine Dragwo preparing a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Conn., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

As Connecticut awaits the arrival of a boost in COVID vaccines, local plans are forming to quickly vaccinate 160,000 teachers, school workers and child care professionals statewide.

In a memo obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, the state Department of Public Health this week directed local health departments to prioritize this group and to only offer vaccination clinics to the general public “if these support a specific goal of addressing racial equity in the vaccine rollout, target vulnerable communities ... or specifically address other access issues for seniors.”

The memo indicated most of the clinics will be held later in March due to vaccine supply.

However, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday the state is expected next week to receive 30,000 Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccines if they are approved in the coming days by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Lamont said the state has been receiving about 100,000 doses weekly of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

As Connecticut’s daily positivity rate dipped to 2.1 percent and COVID hospitalizations dropped to 485 on Thursday, Lamont said the “vast majority” of the state’s school workers and child care professionals should receive their first dose of the vaccine in March.

Breaking from federal guidance this week, Lamont announced a new vaccine plan that focuses on age groups, but offers an opportunity for those working in schools or child care to get priority starting Monday.

Those who will be eligible under the two categories include a broad swath of personnel far beyond just classroom teachers and day care workers. At schools, the list includes non-certified staff like paraeducators, and also custodial and maintenance staff as well as security guards and bus drivers. In child care settings, the list includes administrative employees who are regularly working in-person with kids and parents, as well as those transporting children.

In the DPH memo, local health directors were asked to complete a survey, asking if they can commit to vaccinating school workers and child care professionals, the number of doses they will need and the maximum amount of first doses they can administer each week in March.

“Not all health departments will need to serve as the primary vaccinator — education and child care institutions may work with hospitals or other vaccinators, or enable their employees to go through clinics open to the public,” the memo reads.

Maura Fitzgerald, a DPH spokeswoman, said each school district is working with its local health department to formulate a plan to vaccinate staff, teachers and child care workers.

“So, the vaccination plan is going to look different from town to town and district to district,” she said.

Fitzgerald said DPH will ensure each local health department or vaccination site “has sufficient supply of vaccine in order to offer clinics throughout the month of March.”

Private and parochial school staff will also be eligible for the vaccine under the plan, according to DPH. A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Bridgeport Catholic school system said employees were registered in January through the federal Vaccine Administration Management System. Some have already been vaccinated, while others are waiting to schedule an appointment, the spokeswoman said.

As those age 55 to 64 in addition to the school workers and child care professionals are set to become eligible on Monday, the state’s frontline essential workers and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of COVID complications continue to voice frustration about being left behind.

An online petition, calling for the state to prioritize these groups, had more than 600 signatures Thursday evening.

Members of the governor’s vaccine advisory group, including some who served on the allocations subcommittee tasked with determining who should get the vaccine first, also said they were blindsided by Lamont’s decision to shift the state’s vaccination priority.

Lamont said Thursday he tried to base the state’s rollout plan on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, but he said the illnesses on the list meant about two-thirds of Connecticut’s population would be eligible at the same time.

The CDC’s guidance prioritizes essential workers and those with high-risk medical conditions after focusing on health care workers and those living in long-term care facilities.

Citing CDC figures, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said the state’s age-based approach is indirectly targeting those with these high-risk medical conditions. On Thursday, 19 more COVID-related deaths were reported, increasing Connecticut’s death toll to 7,614.

“Seventy-five percent of the people who have comorbidities and health issues are people in the 55 and older age group,” Bysiewicz said. “If you vaccinate 55 and up, you will cover 75 percent of the population who has comorbidity issues.”

Disability Rights Connecticut has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, claiming the state’s new vaccine plans “constitute disability discrimination.” The complaint calls on the HHS Office of Civil Rights to order the state to “revise its COVID-19 vaccine policy to include individuals with underlying medical conditions, regardless of their age, who are at increased risk of COVID-19 infection” as a priority for the vaccine.

Lamont said he had been “informed” of the filing. But he said the complaint was directed at the wrong entity, citing the CDC’s list, which does not include people with intellectual or physical disabilities.

What school, child care workers are eligible?

School and child care workers who will be eligible fall into four main categories, but generally only include those who work in-person. Board of Education members are not included.

Here is the list from the state Department of Public Health:

Certified staff

Classroom Educators PK-12 (including DSAP &LTS)

Student and Educator Support Specialists - Special Education, School Counselors, Social Workers, SLP, School Psychologists.

School Nurses

Building & Central Office Administrators

Non-classroom based certified personnel; Content Area coaches, Department Chairs, Curriculum Specialists, Technology Specialists

Non-certified instructional staff

Paraeducators

Tutors

Interventionists

Behavioral Specialists

Contracted Support Specialists - BCBA, Speech

District/Building-based Substitutes

Education candidates serving as interns, tutors/substitutes/student teachers

Non-certified support staff

Custodial & Maintenance Staff

Food Service Staff

Office Administration Staff (Building & Central Office in schools)

Security Personnel

Nurse Office Aides & Staff

Library/Media Center Support Staff (if not certified)

IT Staff

Athletic Coaches & Extra-Curricular Advisors (if not certified)

Bus/Van Drivers LEA & Private Companies

Substitute teachers

In-school volunteers

Child care professionals

Child care teachers, assistant teachers, paraprofessionals

Administrative staff with in-person contact with parents and children.

Program support staff who have regular in-person contact with children

Child care transportation professionals

“Their real frustration ought to be with the CDC,” he said.