A new wave of Connecticut residents became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines Friday morning.
Predictably, not everyone could secure an appointment right away, but state officials said they hope accessibility will improve in the coming weeks with bigger shipments of vaccine doses and more vaccinators.
“Each time we open up to a new group, there’s a rush to the door,” said Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner for the state Department of Public Health. “We know our phone lines have been busy this morning, I know the websites have been busy this morning, but be patient.”
Residents 45 years and older can now get vaccines by using the state’s online Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS), calling the state appointment assist line, or signing up directly with private health organizations and pharmacy chains.
Gifford announced that Stop & Shop pharmacies have joined the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and will schedule a limited number of appointments beginning Friday.
The acting health commissioner was one of the first people to get the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Stop & Shop in New Britain. Gifford became eligible when the state opened vaccines to people 55 and older on March 1, but she said she waited to schedule until after the initial rush.
“If you can wait through the weekend or into next week to try to schedule your appointment, that will make it easier for everybody to get an appointment,” she said.
But many Connecticut residents expressed on social media their eagerness to lock in appointments as quickly as possible, especially those who said they’ve been living with chronic health conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
Preliminary vaccination plans earlier this year prioritized this group of people and certain front-line workers, as recommended by federal guidelines, but the state moved to an age-based vaccine schedule in late February.
As of Thursday, more than 966,000 people in Connecticut have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine -- about 33% of all adults 16 years and older.
However, state data show that disparities persist in vaccine coverage by race and ethnicity. Nearly 1 in 3 white residents have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, whereas only about 17% of Black and 14% of Hispanic residents have gotten the same.
Health providers and community leaders have said this is a result most closely tied to inequitable access to vaccines in neighborhoods and areas with significant populations of marginalized people.
Mark Cooney, Stop & Shop district pharmacy manager, said that’s why the grocery chain worked with DPH to first launch vaccinations in store locations that already serve low-income or vulnerable groups of people.
“The hope is that over the next few weeks we will be able to increase our allocation and be able to help the towns and cities we are in,” he said.
Rep. Robert Sanchez, a Democrat representing New Britain, said he hopes these new locations give new opportunities for residents to get their shots.
“One of my poor communities here in New Britain, which is 90 percent people of color that live in that community, is just around the corner,” he said, “and now they can come here to get vaccinated, so we’re going to get that word out to them.”
But health equity advocates have pointed out that simply creating a vaccine location in a high-need area doesn’t necessarily increase access for local residents.
People seeking vaccines from Stop & Shop need to make appointments through the grocery chain’s website, which lets any eligible resident or worker search for open appointments by ZIP code, “which may be near your home, your place of work, or some other convenient location.”
State officials have set a tentative date of April 5 to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 years and older.
Information on COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in Connecticut, and ways to schedule appointments, can be found at ct.gov/covidvaccine