MERIDEN — Collin Hager said it was “dumb luck” that got him an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine at the Walgreens on East Main Street.
The 39-year-old from Middletown called the pharmacy’s vaccine hotline early Thursday and was offered the afternoon appointment to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Later in the morning, there were no appointments available.
”This was the first day and I wanted to get it done,” Hager said.
He wasn’t alone. As the state opened up eligibility to people over age 16, several others at Walgreens said they used social media to help find appointments.
“I was basically up all night. it’s important to me and for all us in the country to get past the pandemic,” said a 28-year-old Middletown man, who declined to give his name.
The over age 16 age group represents about 1.3 million people in the state, but health officials estimate the number of those requiring vaccine to be about 700,000. The rush of newcomers forced the statewide Vaccine Administration Management System to close its phone line and direct callers online. More than 100,000 people booked vaccine appointments on Thursday, state officials said.
“This is a demographic that has been waiting a couple of months now,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “It made them smile.”
Supply is predicted to exceed demand by late April, Lamont added.
Hartford HealthCare’s MyChartPlus website had no available appointments Thursday morning, but it did add a new feature that allows vaccine seekers to leave an email address for the next available appointment.
“It puts people in the queue,” Dr. James Cardon, HHC’s chief clinical integration officer, told reporters on Thursday morning.
Hartford HealthCare, the parent company of MidState Medical Center, has also improved its software to prioritize zip codes targeted as underserved.
As the number of those vaccinated in the state rises, so has the number of infections. State officials said 81 percent of the state’s over age 65 are vaccinated and 44 percent of those over the age of 16 have had a first dose.
But health care providers have reported increases in the numbers of young adults and teens testing positive for the virus.
The state’s positivity rate increased to 5.26 percent Tuesday, but fell to 3.75 Wednesday and was back up at 4.4 percent on Thursday. Hospitalizations have also ticked up.
“The next few weeks are very important,” said Keith Grant, HHC senior system director for infection control. “I’d like to see it get down below 2 percent.”
Right now, 16- and 17-year-olds can only be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine with parental consent. School districts are working with the state on clinics based at schools. Pfizer announced this week that its vaccine has shown effectiveness in ages 12 to 15, and Moderna is testing its vaccine on younger teens.
“We hope we’ll be able to see some of this come to pass in the next few weeks and lead to the authorization,” said Angela Wong of Pfizer. “This is a vaccine that has been tested rigorously.”
The drug developer also announced the vaccine is effective for at least six months and works against the variants. Vaccine makers are monitoring the variants closely, Wong said.
“We have options and solutions that will enable us to meet the needs and respond to the virus,” Wong said.
A hiccup at a Johnson & Johnson vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore led to a loss of millions of doses. The loss will not impact the state’s future supply, Lamont said.
Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati, age 31, received his first dose Thursday at the Senior Center.
“Like many, I have been anxiously waiting my turn to get vaccinated,” Scarpati said via text message. “It has been a long and challenging year for all of us and I know this shot is one step closer to ending this pandemic.”