Covid-19 Vaccinations in CT: Fighting Misinformation, Scheduling an Appointment, Anticipating Herd Immunity

During a press conference on Wednesday, the CEO of Yale New Haven Health System, Marna Borgstrom, said the high mark for Covid-19 hospitalizations was four months ago during the second wave of Covid-19.

On December 8, 2020 the system had 447 Covid-positive patients.

As of Wednesday, the system was down to 165 patients, with 44 in ICU and fewer than half of them on ventilators.

That breaks down as 97 at Yale New Haven Hospital, 43 at Bridgeport, 11 at L+M, 11 at Greenwich Hospital, 2 at Westerly. Nearly 10,000 people have been discharged after being admitted with Covid-19. Sadly, over 1,000 people have lost their lives to Covid-19 within the system.

Borgstrom said admissions of patients over 75 had declined for the last four straight weeks.

“Those were the first people eligible,” Borgstrom said, of people age 75+, adding that with people 65+ being vaccinated, they were seeing a similar trend.

“The great news is the vaccines are working,” she added.

Also Borgstrom said the system had not seen any Covd-19 positive patients coming in who had been vaccinated.

Dr. Tom Balcezak, the chief medical officer for the system, said to date more than 100,000 individuals had been vaccinated within the system. They are on track to do about 12,000 a week, but could scale it up with greater allocation.

“Those are staggering statistics I don’t think anyone would have believed,” he said.

He said that on Friday the system will open up availability to people age 45+ on Friday.

“Remember that the single biggest factor that leads to mortality in Covid-19 is age,” he said. “We expect that there will be a large drop in mortality rate as these elderly are no longer at risk.”

The health system continues outreach to vulnerable neighborhoods, communities of color across the state, people who may not be able to navigate the sign up process, and people who may not be able to get to the mass vaccination sites.

They have also opened pop-up vaccination sites, including one at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bridgeport on Monday and one set for Thursday at the Shiloh Baptist Church in New London.

Also, he said door-to-door efforts have been helpful.

Balcezak said that conversations are now turning to when it will be possible to visit friends and family, to share meals and visit places previously closed or restricted.

“We’re close to the finish line in this marathon,” he said, adding that it was still important to abide by public health guidelines. “It is up to us. Government can only do so much. The citizens also have some responsibility.”

The system is approaching 75% of their staff being vaccinated. “We’re getting close to that community immunity number for our employees, and they expect that in the next week or two they’ll hit 80%.

Balcezak said he believed herd immunity was achievable outside the health system.

“This is a snowball rolling and it will pick up more snow as it rolls,” Balcezak said.

The health system plans to open pop-up clinics for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for their employees, some of whom said they’d been waiting for that specific vaccine.

J&J has been collaborating with Merck to scale up production of that vaccine and Balcezak said they expect to be allocated a lot more of that single dose vaccine, and “get folks vaccinated quickly.”

After mostly white suburban people were being vaccinated at the system’s Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven during the initial weeks, Balcezak said prioritization is now given to people who live in those surrounding neighborhoods.

To determine priority, they use information including addresses, zip codes and phone numbers. Also, he said the system’s healthcare workers in those neighborhoods are actively soliciting individuals from those neighborhoods.

“We are getting 800 to 1300 vaccinations in arms per day at Floyd Little, which is 3,000 to 4,000 doses per week,” he added. “We could increase that number by 100% (with increased allocation.)”

That mass vaccination site has 21 vaccination stations, but due to allocations they are not yet all operational.

Balcezak said each time a new age bracket becomes eligible for the vaccine the health system’s call centers see an enormous spike. In response the system has added servers to their web presence.

“We haven’t crashed our website, but we do run out of appointments. We ask folks to stay patient. We are going to be able to accommodate everyone…Keep checking back. Look at the other sites in the state of CT that are vaccinating.”

As for news that that some countries are suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine out of concern it might correlate to blood clots, Balcezak said that company had yet to file an application with the FDA for emergency use.

Balcezak said in the CT region the B117, “the UK variant,” is becoming the prominent variant, and that to his knowledge there has been very little of the South African variant and almost none of the Brazilian variant.

He said the best way to shut down the creation of new variants and the spread the old is to get vaccinated.

Asked about misinformation spreading that the vaccine will modify a person’s genes, Balcezak said, “Let me be very clear on this. There is no scientific plausible mechanism for this vaccine to alter anyone’s genes. It just simply isn’t possible. It’s a small piece of genetic material that, once injected into your body, degrades very quickly. It gets into your cell,makes a protein and then degrades. It cannot be inserted into your genome. That is a fact.”

Asked how long immunity will last from the vaccines, Balcezak said, people involved in clinical trials will be followed for many years. The people who were vaccinated in clinical trials about a year ago still have immunity.

“We know that the risk of getting the vaccine is essentially zero,” Balcezak said. “More than 75 million people in the US have been vaccinated.”

During an afternoon press conference hosted by Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo and Greenwich Hospital, Camillo said that as of Tuesday the town’s total Covid-19 cases was 4219, which was up 96 from a week earlier. The total number of active cases was 105 (down 1 from a week earlier), total deaths was 86 (increase of 3).

The rate per 1,000 was 20.6, which was a decrease of 5.5%.

Camillo said that with the vaccination rates increasing, and with warm weather on the corner, he anticipates the town will see the numbers continue on their favorable trend.

Dana Marnane from Greenwich Hospital said the Brunswick vaccination site had administered more than 12,000 vaccines.

“We will have our biggest day yet on Saturday when we plan to administer more than 1,100 doses, and we will continue ramp up as we get more vaccine,” she said.

Camillo suggested people who have been vaccinated continue to wear their masks when they can’t keep a distance of 6 feet.

“Until we have that herd immunity,” he said.

Marnane agreed. “People need to continue to mask, even if you’re vaccinated. We haven’t changed here in the hospital. Outside of our offices, we are fully masked. Social distancing, masks and hand washing are still critical until we hit that herd immunity.”