Yale New Haven Health System Update: Covid-19 Vaccinations Rolling Smoothly; Outreach to People of Color; Dispelling Myths

Leaders of Yale New Haven Health System’s Friday afternoon press conference gave an update on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

As of Friday, CEO Marna Borgstrom said there were 317 Covid-19 patients across the System, down 72 from two weeks ago.

She said 86 of them were in the ICU, and 42 were on ventilators.

“Those are really sick patients, and for those patients and their family members who love them and can’t be with them, it remains a very challenging disease,” she said, adding that unlike the peak in Covid-19 cases last spring, the Health System is nearly 100% occupied in behavioral health, heart and vascular and neurology and neurosurgery.

“We are very full at our health system hospitals,” she said. “We are extremely busy.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Balcezak said that while Covid-19 cases had decreased, there were other patients who needed care.

“Our staff are stressed ,and that’s not a demand that goes away,” he added. “Thankfully this has been a very, very light flu season so far. We’ve seen essentially no flu cases.”

Breakdown of 317 cases:

165 at Yale New Haven Hospital

83 at Bridgeport Hospital

28 at Lawrence + Memorial in New London

31 at Greenwich Hospital

10 at Westerly Hospital in RI

Ms Borgstrom said that during the summer the health system’s focus was on testing, but the focus had moved to vaccinations.

She said the system was capable of administering 40,000 vaccinations a week.

“Unfortunately the supply has not matched that, and depending on the week, we are getting 4,000 to 6,000 doses for general use for first doses. That’s a problem. That’s a concern,” she said. “The pharma companies say they are manufacturing a lot of this, and for reasons that are hard to track, we’re not sure where is it and why we aren’t getting more.”

Borgstrom said ideally the people being vaccinated would reflect the health system’s patient population.

“There is a socio-demographic and racial gap in terms of how many people are getting the vaccine right now,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work with local churches, other leaders in the community and the NAACP to have dialogue with people of color about why the vaccine is safe.”

Dr. Tom Balcezak, Chief Medical Officer at Yale New Haven Health System on Zoom.

About half CT’s population over the age of 75 have been vaccinated. Within the system, about 40,000 individuals had been vaccinated, and more than 15,000 were over 75+ across the system’s mass vaccination sites.

Balcezak said the health system could be vaccinating more people.

“We know we could be doing much, much more. We could be scaling these mass vaccination sites to 40,000 doses per week,” he said. “The state of Connecticut is just receiving too few doses.”

Balcezak said he anticipated that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will join the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of February or early March.

He said it was good news to hear Governor Lamont had asked CVS and Walgreens to open up vaccination sites in Bridgeport, New Britain, Waterbury, New Haven, New London, Hartford and other metropolitan areas where there were vulnerable inner city populations.

He said the Yale New Haven Health System had situated their sites in easily accessible locations, and sought ways to lower the barriers for people challenged by the technology of scheduling a vaccine.

He said there was some hesitancy among certain groups to get the vaccine, and that they were working in cities with churches and community based groups to explain the vaccine is safe, effective and prevents Covid-19.

Balcezak said about 67% of people 75+ had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Of those who received the first dose, almost all of them had received or have scheduled the second dose.

Reasons for reluctance to receive the vaccine included fear of side effects and impacts on fertility, as well as concerns about long term side effects.

“These vaccines have been given to millions and millions of people,” he said. “There have been very, very few side effects.”

“With almost 4,000 people across the US dying. It’s time for everyone to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Tom Balcezak

Balcezak said the health system was doing outreach with the goal of trying to answer questions and dispel myths.

“The only side effect from the vaccine that most of us are experiencing now is immunity to the virus, which I think all of us can agree is the most wonderful side effect there could be,” Balcezak said, adding that among Yale New Haven Health System staff, the vaccine was not mandatory.

UK and other Variants

Balcezak said viruses constantly mutate and evolve.

“They are trying to give themselves a competitive advantage, which is what allows them to take root, take hold and spread.”

He said the UK mutation, the B117 variant, confers a benefit of spread, though it does not change its mortality or how much it impacts the body once it takes hold. Still he said that variant was of grave concern.

He said less was known about the South African and Brazilian variants.

“The faster we can get our population vaccinated, and the spread of this (virus) stopped, the faster we can stop any of the strains, or any new strains from taking hold within our population,” he said.

Asked about the timing of rolling back restrictions, Balcezak said it was all about the positivity rate.

“As we see cases go down, and as we see fewer cases in the hospital, the positivity rate of tests goes down – that will be our trigger,” he said. “Whether there is a different mutation in the community or not, it’s all about how much transmission we see and whether that transmission begins to abate.”

Balcezak said a good piece of news was that there was virtually no flu this year, which he attributed to mask wearing and physical distancing.

Asked about people “jumping the queue” for Covid-19 vaccinations, Balcezak said there were patients who don’t live or work in Connecticut but were patients of the Yale New Haven Health System. He said some of them tried to register for a vaccination, but were not eligible for vaccinations in Connecticut.

He said there will be tough decisions about prioritizing who gets vaccine priority, and the Health System was being very careful about following the State rules and not allow people to jump the line.

That said, Balcezak added, “We’re also not going to police each and every one of the individuals signing up, and we’re going to have a hard time when we get to essential workers, and about how we’re going to assess whether someone who works in a grocery store or an essential manufacturing plant. I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to do that, but we’ll need to figure it out between now and the end of February when it’s expected we’ll be opening up those categories.”

See also;

Weekly Covid Update: Greenwich Hospital Vaccinations Going Smoothly

Lamont Allocates $40 Million to CT Hospitals to Support Covid-19 Response Efforts

CVS Health expands community access to COVID-19 vaccines

Lamont: Covid-19 Positivity rate less than 4%. “That’s remarkable.” Some easing of rules.