The White House has weighed in on Connecticut’s plan to move forward with an age-based eligibility approach to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.
This week, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the state has a plan for the vaccine that will involve inoculating residents based on their age, though the federal government is still recommending prioritizing those with pre-existing conditions and frontline essential workers.
“We make recommendations at the federal level for a reason because there are groups that we feel should be prioritized,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, a 1996 Greenwich High School graduate, during a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Feb. 24 without calling on Connecticut to reverse the plan.
“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.”
Dr. Helen Talbot, an infectious disease specialist that advises the CDC on vaccine prioritization and helped write the CDC guidance, said that Connecticut’s plan is easier to implement, but could potentially lead to more deaths among those with comorbidities.
“It’s definitely easier to do it by age,” she said. “I just worry that there are people with lots of chronic co-morbid conditions who are incredibly high risk, even more so than some of their older neighbors, and they will have to wait longer and we may see more of them die.”
The CDC currently recommends prioritizing other essential workers such as grocery employees, healthcare workers, and those over the age of 65 and may be vulnerable to the virus, as opposed to Connecticut’s age-based approach.
“We make recommendations at the federal level for a reason because there are groups that we feel should be prioritized whether they are frontline workers, health care workers, individuals over a certain age as you noted and our objective of course is to get to the stage where there are recommendations for people who are much younger, who don’t have pre-existing health conditions that would mean they would qualify,” Psaki said. “That’s the reason we lay them out as we do.”
Instead of putting frontline essential workers and those with pre-existing conditions at the front of the line, Lamont and other officials in Connecticut have defended taking an age-based approach that is also emphasizing education employees.
“This new approach allows for more workers across Connecticut to get vaccinated in a short period of time, and it eliminates potentially complicated rules, making it easier and more equitable for everyone to receive their vaccination,” Connecticut Business and Industry Association president and CEO Chris DiPentima said. "It is critical that we vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
A spokesperson for Lamont defended the state’s decision, noting that the federal government left it up to the state on how to distribute the vaccination.
“Press Secretary Psaki also reiterated the fact that vaccine distribution has been left up to states, and Connecticut is forging its own path in that regard," Lamont spokesperson Max Reiss said. "The Biden Administration has been a remarkable partner by increasing vaccine supply and providing predictability for states when it has come to vaccine distribution.”
Lamont previously said that the circumstances surrounding the vaccine are constantly evolving, which requires the state to sometimes react on the fly to make it as accessible as possible to the public.
“The last thing we want to do is complicate the process for them and cause delays that slow things down and exacerbate issues regarding equitable access,” he said. “A vaccination program of this magnitude is unprecedented in recent times, and I appreciate everyone’s understanding of the fluid nature of this situation.”
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