As the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 climbs in Connecticut, and demand drops off, appointments are no longer needed at many local vaccination clinics.
Demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in Connecticut has decreased by about 50% over the past two weeks, prompting state officials to now focus heavily on reaching people — especially younger residents — with the state’s fleet of mobile vaccination vans and walk-up vaccinations at more than 100 existing clinics, according to information from the Associated Press.
Gov. Ned Lamont said plans are underway to bring the vans to large workplaces, fairs, parades and other large gatherings.
“We’re doing everything we can to make the last of our folks, the 34% who aren’t vaccinated — I hope they get vaccinated — vaccinated soon,” the Democrat said recently during his regular COVID briefing with reporters.
Walk-ins are now welcome at all Community Health Center Inc. sites, including State Street in Meriden, and Hartford HealthCare is providing vaccines without appointments at all its locations, including MidState Medical Center in Meriden and Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford. The vaccine is available to those age 16 and up, though minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The Wallingford Health Department is directing the general public to the Oakdale for vaccination to allow the department to continue its outreach program in underserved communities, said Health Director Stephen Civitelli.
A Hartford HealthCare spokeswoman said the vaccine brand available to the public varies from site to site based on supply. Those in search of a particular brand should make an appointment first.
“Demand for vaccine appointments is weakening and there is plenty of availability,” said Dr. James Cardon. “We expected this. As we recognized the need to remove barriers, we’ve begun to move and allow more walkups.”
Local health care providers are fighting vaccine hesitancy on three fronts, access, information and trust. The priority at this time is access, Cardon said.
Hartford HealthCare tested its walk-in program at three sites to ensure supply was available before expanding it to all locations. The health care network is evaluating the shift from mega clinics offering thousands of vaccines to smaller venues serving hundreds of patients. As it dispenses second round doses and administers first round doses through walk-ins, second dose appointments might be made elsewhere, Cardon said.
The health care network has resumed dispensing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in its emergency rooms and to patients leaving the hospital. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was halted for two weeks to study a potential connection with rare blood clots.
Although walk-ins are welcome at Community Health Centers, there might be a wait. Those in a hurry are advised to pre-register in the state’s Vaccine Administration Management System at least one hour prior to arrival.
Drug store chains CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens, announced Monday COVID-19 appointments are available for the same day through their online registration sites or by calling their stores. CVS has vaccines available in its Berlin store, Walgreens at its East Main Street store in Meriden, and Rite Aid at its North Colony Road store in Wallingford. The pharmacies are trying to reach more people who are hesitant, or have transportation and technology barriers.
The pharmacies are also offering walk-in appointments at select stores nationwide and have entered into partnerships with large employers, similar to flu shot clinics. Walgreens has partnerships with Apple and Amtrak to vaccinate thousands of employees across the country and has opened walk-in mobile clinics in underserved areas.
The U.S. is averaging 2.4 million reported vaccinations per day over the past week, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, down from a peak of 3.4 million reported shots per day on April 13. That number has dropped off, even as every adult in all states are eligible.
Health experts have said mass vaccinations will get the U.S. closer to herd immunity — the point when COVID-19 can’t spread easily and mutate, because most of the population has been vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 44 percent of the population has had at least one dose of vaccine and 31 percent are fully vaccinated. Connecticut’s number of vaccinated adults is higher than many states nationwide — roughly 66 percent with the greatest numbers of vaccinated residents in the over 65 age groups.
Some medical experts and scientists have expressed doubts about when — or if — herd immunity is possible, but have encouraged vaccinations to try to reach the goal.
Also Monday, Lamont and the state Department of Public Health announced that 27 municipalities and local health departments were selected to share in more than $13 million in federal grant money to be used to form partnerships between local health and community organizations and vaccine providers to promote and increase vaccine equity.
The Meriden Health and Human Services Department and the Chesprocott Regional Health District, which services Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott, were among the agencies selected for the grants. The contracts with each district are still being negotiated and the amounts were unavailable on Monday.
The Meriden health department has been offering clinics in partnership with other agencies. It is no longer administering vaccines at the senior center. However, walk-in vaccines are distributed every Monday at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center, 175 E. Main St., Meriden.
“Our goal with the vaccination program is to reach out to every Connecticut resident, particularly those who have historically been underserved when it comes to access to health care, transportation, or other challenges,” Lamont stated in a statement. “Everybody deserves the right to access these lifesaving vaccines. We need to do everything we can to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to receive this care.”
Jeffrey A. Flaks, Hartford HealthCare president, said Monday a close review of the data proves the vaccines are bringing down the number of people seriously ill with COVID-19 in Connecticut.
“Today we have 108 COVID positive patients,” Flaks said. “When we look at each person, in nearly every instance they have not been vaccinated or completed the full vaccination process.”