A backlash is growing in Connecticut and Maine following the adoption of age-based eligibility rules for Covid-19 vaccinations that will force some people with serious medical conditions and essential workers to wait longer for their turn.
The two states are the only ones in the country to base eligibility for the Covid-19 vaccine mostly on age. In recent weeks, both abandoned previous plans to also give priority to people with certain underlying medical conditions and people working in some occupations. In Connecticut, people 55 years and older are currently permitted to get the vaccine, and in Maine people 60 and older can get it.
Younger people will become eligible in phases. Both states have carved out an exception for people who work in education.
David Margolis, who lives in Stamford, Conn., said he had expected his 21-year-old son, who has a rare genetic disorder that makes him more susceptible to a severe case of Covid-19, to be included in the next group of people eligible for the vaccine. Instead, he will have to wait until at least May, when Connecticut opens up vaccinations to its last group, 16- to 34-year-olds.
“We were flabbergasted. We were brokenhearted,” said Mr. Margolis, 63. “How you take this population of people that have these underlying conditions and just sort of throw them to the wayside is just beyond me.”
Disability Rights Connecticut, a nonprofit group that represents people with disabilities, filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month, alleging Connecticut’s new policy discriminates against people with disabilities.
The eligibility criteria for Covid-19 vaccines varies by state, but all have given priority to vaccinating their oldest residents and healthcare workers. The vast majority also follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to give priority to people with high-risk underlying medical conditions and essential workers.
A lot of states have been changing eligibility rules as they go, creating confusion for residents. California temporarily pushed back opening up vaccinations to essential workers to speed up the process, but has since allowed food and agriculture workers to get vaccinated. On March 15, people with underlying medical conditions will become eligible.
Maine and Connecticut officials say rolling out the vaccine based on age is a faster and more efficient method that will prevent more deaths. It eliminates the complications of choosing which occupations and medical conditions would qualify and verifying that information. Also, state health officials concluded that age is the single most important factor that determines whether someone with a severe case of Covid-19 lives or dies.
“There is a great deal of fear out there, justifiable fear, of catching the virus,”
Maine Gov. Janet Mills,
a Democrat, said at a news conference last week. “The decision we are making is the one that will benefit the most people and save the most lives.”
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She acknowledged that some people with underlying medical conditions would be disappointed by the change. Under the state’s new plan, the last eligible age group, ages 29 and under, can get vaccinated in July.
Josh Geballe, Connecticut’s chief operating officer who helps steer the state’s pandemic response, said giving priority to essential workers and people with underlying medical conditions was unworkable, given the challenge of verifying occupations and health details.
Also, the number of Connecticut residents with a qualifying medical condition and essential workers could have been up to 1.5 million, Mr. Geballe said. There currently aren’t enough vaccine doses for that, so the state would have had to create another tier of prioritization within those groups, further complicating efforts, he said.
“Our strategy is really designed to ensure we go as quickly as we can, to reduce deaths and severe illness from Covid, and also to give us the best opportunity to have equity in our vaccine rollout,” Mr. Geballe said. “We remain convinced that this strategy is the best one to achieve both goals.”
Many young essential workers were dismayed to learn they have to wait longer for the vaccine. Allyson McCabe, a 21-year-old assistant front-end manager at a Stop & Shop in Simsbury, Conn., called the state’s new vaccine rules “a slap in the face.”
“We went in the face of this Covid since day one, and we don’t really get any thanks for that,” Ms. McCabe said.
Some medical professionals say the approach raises questions about fairness and could further exacerbate the inequities wrought by the pandemic.
“The question for society is, is that an equitable approach? And in my viewpoint, I think we can take a different approach and have a more equitable rollout,” said Bonnie Swenor, director of the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center, who believes people with underlying medical conditions should be eligible sooner.
Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said that given the rocky rollout of the vaccine across the U.S., giving priority to age makes sense rather than trying to fix a dysfunctional system.
“I think just getting it out there has got to be our goal,” Dr. Caplan said. “I’m willing to, sadly, sacrifice somewhat on equity at this point.”
Write to Joseph De Avila at email@example.com
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