Confusion may be why Connecticut COVID booster numbers are low, officials say

More than 1.7 million people can get a booster, according to Gov. Ned Lamont, but only about 450,000 have so far in Connecticut.

More than 1.7 million people can get a booster, according to Gov. Ned Lamont, but only about 450,000 have so far in Connecticut.

Matt Stone / Associated Press

Connecticut’s top health official on Thursday acknowledged some confusion around the eligibility for COVID-19 boosters as the governor has been pushing people to get the extra dose.

“I know the messaging has been confusing about who is eligible for a booster,” state Department of Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said during a news conference promoting booster shots. She said a 61-year-old man with diabetes told her he didn’t know he was eligible for the booster.

Gov. Ned Lamont had expressed frustration this week over the “CDC’s confusing guidance” as several states such as Arkansas, Colorado and New Mexico have skirted federal guidelines and moved to expand booster eligibility ahead of the holidays.

Juthani and Dr. Thomas Balcezak, chief medical officer at Yale New Haven Health, said the lack of clarity about who is eligible to get a booster may be why the number of those receiving it is not higher. Connecticut has had one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation.

“Only about 18 percent of folks have gotten a booster,” Balcezak said. “We still have a ways to go to get people boostered.”

“I don’t understand why we are the most vaccinated state in the nation and yet we are slow to get boosted,” he said. “I think that will change over time.”

Balcezak speculated the lack of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval, which could come before the weekend, could be causing hesitation about getting the booster.

“The FDA hasn’t cleared boosters for everyone,” he said. “Maybe we’re rule followers here in the Nutmeg State.”

On Thursday, the state reported a daily COVID positivity rate of 2.55 percent. Hospitalization decreased by a net of six patients for a total of 241. The state also reported 25 new deaths in the past week for a total of 8,834 since the start of the pandemic.

With the latest rise in the positivity rate and hospitalizations, state officials have been pushing residents to get boosters.

By May 18, more than 1.7 million people in Connecticut were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, either with two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson, according to state data.

However, only 445,759 additional doses have been administered, including third shots for immunocompromised patients and boosters, according to the state’s data. The data does not separate the number of people who received a third dose and those who got boosters.

About one-quarter of those, 146,359 total shots, have been administered to people between the ages of 65 and 74. A total of 87,096 people 75 to 84 have had third doses, compared to 30,984 people 85 and older. Eighty-one people between the ages of 12 and 15 have had a third dose.

Though Lamont said Wednesday that all adults 18 and older can get booster shots if they feel they are at high risk, federal regulators have limited eligibility for the additional dose.

To receive a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster, individuals must have been fully vaccinated for at least six months, be age 65 and older, have certain medical conditions, or live or work in high-risk settings.

To receive a booster after being fully vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, an individual must wait two months to be eligible.

“We’re 11 months into the vaccination program, and from my point of view, if you were vaccinated more than six months ago, you’re not fully vaccinated,” Lamont said.

Despite Lamont’s encouragement, Balcezak did not go so far as to promote booster shots for individuals not cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Before we open it up for widespread use by everybody, I think we should probably wait for that FDA clearance,” he said.

There is some evidence that immunity against COVID-19 provided by the initial vaccine course is not as robust as originally believed, officials said.

“If you got vaccinated seven, eight, nine, 10 months ago … your immunity is most certainly waning,” Juthani said.

Balcezak said there is a risk of breakthrough infection, though the latest COVID-19 hospitalizations are “almost entirely made up of unvaccinated individuals.”

On Thursday, the state reported 1,688 new breakthrough infections through the past week.

“Over time, the protection that’s conveyed by all the vaccines does slightly go down,” Balcezak said. “Although it does slightly wane, you still are protected from severe disease.”

Staff writer Julia Bergman contributed to this story.