Expert: Connecticut vaccinations may rise if COVID gets worse

The rate of vaccinations in Connecticut has slowed to a plateau in recent weeks, but an expert believes it may increase if the coronavirus begins to spread again.

“If somebody is unvaccinated, I think what they or their parents are going to be looking at is the hundreds of millions of people here in the United States who have had one or more doses of vaccine, that they're still alive, and they're doing well,” said Rick Martinello, director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health.

As of Friday, 54.47 percent of the state’s total population have been fully vaccinated, according to state data. Residents who are 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated and while the vaccination rate has increased as younger age groups become eligible, that rate has slowed to a crawl in recent weeks.

The number of fully vaccinated people in Connecticut has grown by no more than 2 percent each week since the end of May. Maura Fitzgerald, a state Department of Public Health spokesperson, said that it’s been residents aged 18 to 34 who have been the most hesitant.

It’s not just Connecticut. On Tuesday, the President Joe Biden administration was expected to announce the country will not reach the July 4 goal of vaccinating 70 percent of American adults with at least one dose, multiple outlets reported.

In Connecticut, 70 percent of eligible adults had at least one dose by early May, nearly two months before the president's goal line.

But weekly vaccine administrations have also slowed since they peaked in mid-April, shortly after the state opened vaccinations up to residents 16 and older. A total of 87,809 vaccines were administered in Connecticut the week of June 12, according to state data, the first time the weekly number had gone up in about two months.

As the number of vaccinations has risen, infections from COVID have decreased, though Martinello said vaccinations are only one of several factors contributing to that dip in COVID transmission, including possible seasonality and the natural ebb and flow of viral waves.

The percent of total COVID tests that came back positive was 0.4 percent on Monday. On Tuesday, the state said the positivity rate was 0.55 percent, incrementally higher but still as low as it’s been since last July. Statewide hospitalizations, among the lowest since the onset of the pandemic, increased by one patient Tuesday for a total of 35. Two new deaths were also reported for a total of 8,271.

Martinello believes that if and when COVID transmission increases the vaccination rate will rise along with it.

“I do think that we will see kind of late adopters continue over the summer to get vaccinated,” he said. “But I think what we're going to see is, come fall or the end of summer, this is my wishful thinking, that we're going to see a surge in interest in vaccination.”

There is also a significant difference between the vaccination rates by town in Connecticut. In Bridgeport, with one of the lowest uptakes in Connecticut, 38.21 percent of residents are vaccinated. By comparison, 74.83 percent of residents in Lyme have been fully vaccinated.

The infection rates also follow those trends, with about 13.5 percent of Bridgeport contracting COVID since the start of the pandemic compared to about 4.44 percent of those living in Lyme, state data shows.

“No doubt vaccination is playing a role in creating those differences. The margin between how each town is vaccinated is an important factor,” Martinello said, but he noted that vaccination rates are not the only factor to consider. “The other thing to keep in mind is that the housing density in Bridgeport is different than that in Lyme. And when you have more people in a smaller space, you get more disease transmission.”

Socioeconomics also plays a factor. Martinello said people who live in higher income communities “don't typically work jobs where there may be more contact with individuals.”

People in lower income communities also tend to work jobs with less freedom, Martinello said, “where there is probably less support for them to be out of work.”

“If they're sick, they still have to go to work,” he said. “They don't have a safety net that allows them to go on paid leave for a period of time.”

Reporter Peter Yankowski contributed to this report.