As COVID threat rises, booster shots mostly stagnant in CT, data shows

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Some Connecticut health officials are hopeful that the threat of the new omicron variant and rising infections and hospitalizations will encourage more people to get booster.

Some Connecticut health officials are hopeful that the threat of the new omicron variant and rising infections and hospitalizations will encourage more people to get booster.

Justin Sullivan / Tribune News Service

With nearly all of the messaging around COVID vaccine now focused on booster shots, Connecticut numbers have not jumped substantially in recent weeks, despite broader eligibility and an increasing threat of infections in the community.

But the threat of the new omicron variant and increasing rates of COVID have health officials hopeful that the rates are poised to sharply rise.

“This is now crossing that threshold, where people are saying, ‘oh, you know, I'm now seeing that, you know, we're heading into winter, there's more of this circulating, I'm gonna get I'm that that pushes me to get my booster,’” said Dr. Rick Martinello, medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health.

The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 26 percent of Connecticut’s fully vaccinated residents received a booster shot as of Thursday. This puts Connecticut, one of the most vaccinated in the country, behind a number of states from Maine to Colorado in the number of residents who have received the extra dose.

But state officials are continuing to push out messages for residents to get booster shots, facing a surge of COVID infections that reached rates in recent days not seen since January.

And top state officials believe more work is needed to encourage people to get a booster.

“More needs to be done. … Everybody said, ‘hey, we have a very, very low infection rate, boosters are nice, I’ll get around to it tomorrow. That’s not their attitude anymore,” Gov. Ned Lamont said.

“We’ve seen everybody coming back, the number of folks that have gotten the booster is making a big difference. Especially for folks my age, you’ve got to go get that booster, you’re starting to lose some of your immunity. So I’d like to think that we’ll be one of the most boostered states in the country in a week or three.”

While some providers say they have seen an increase in demand, it appears to be not as high as the initial vaccine rollout.

“I would say that demand is increasing. We still do have booster appointments available at most of our sites through Dec. 13,” said Eric Arlia, senior director of System Pharmacy for Hartford HealthCare.

Arlia said there were appointments open multiple days at five hospital locations across the state.

Eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna booster was initially confusing for those under the age of 65, state and federal health officials acknowledged, drawing concern that people who were eligible were not getting the booster.

For people between 18 and 64, eligibility was initially limited to those living or working in high-risk settings or those with certain medical conditions, assuming they had been fully vaccinated for six months.

A booster for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was far less utilized in Connecticut, is available to anyone age 18 and older if they have been fully vaccinated for at least two months.

But federal regulators have since opened eligibility broadly for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to everyone 18 and older ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, and the CDC is now recommending that all adults get a booster, after initially limiting its recommendation to those age 50 and older.

The number of booster shots administered in Connecticut has since increased to around 15,000 daily doses, according to CDC data, roughly on par with the first weeks of booster administration. The percentage of fully vaccinated individuals who received a booster increased about 5 percent in that time.

The drive to get people booster shots comes at the convergence of rising infection rates, hospitalizations that have surged past 400 for the first time since April and the threat of the omicron variant, while those most vulnerable received their initial vaccines nearly a year ago.

While research shows vaccines maintain efficacy for months, studies show it does wane over time. And the message to the public has followed suit, with officials urging boosters for those who were among the first vaccinated.

“I’d like to see everybody that’s been vaccinated more than six months ago, 100 percent of them have a booster,” Lamont said. “You got the first shot, you know that it worked, here’s your chance to get the booster.”

Compounding the concern is the emergence of omicron, a variant first discovered last month in South Africa that has more than 30 mutations. While numerous studies are underway, little is known definitively if this variant, like delta, is more transmissible. It is also unclear whether it can evade the body’s immune response.

Despite questions about whether the vaccines are effective against omicron, vaccines, surveillance and testing are the focus for health agencies.

“We’re closer because we do more testing and we do more genetic sequencing than anybody,” Lamont said. “Just because we haven’t found it yet doesn’t mean it isn’t here.”

Staff writers Ginny Monk and Jordan Nathaniel Fenster contributed to this story.