COVID vaccination eligibility expands today. Here's what to expect.

Photo of Nicholas Rondinone
A nurse delivers a shot of COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of a patient at the new vaccination clinic set up in the gymnasium of Central High School, in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 20, 2021.

A nurse delivers a shot of COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of a patient at the new vaccination clinic set up in the gymnasium of Central High School, in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 20, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

From people age 55 and older to teachers, school workers and child care professionals, Connecticut launches a major expansion Monday of its COVID-19 vaccination program.

State officials estimate these next groups include about 610,000 people, so they said patience will be key in the coming days as new requests are expected to flood the system.

Although eligibility is expanding, vaccination will continue for those in previous groups, including residents 65 and older.

“We anticipate that our online scheduling systems and the Vaccine Appointment Assist Line will be inundated (Monday) and for the next several days with people eager to make their vaccine appointments. It’s a good problem to have, and we have increased our capacity to better handle the anticipated surge in volume, but it will still require people to be patient when signing up,” Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced the new age-based vaccine plan last week, shifting focus from those with high-risk health conditions and certain essential workers.

Who is eligible?

The state expects this next group to include more than 400,000 people age 55 to 64, the largest group to gain eligibility since the vaccine program launched in late 2020.

On Monday, state officials said 160,000 teachers, school workers, and child care professionals will also become eligible to get vaccinated.

Vaccinations will continue for those eligible in previous phases, including those age 65 and older.

Making appointments

State officials said they have increased staffing for the vaccination hotline Monday in preparation for an influx of calls. The system, they said, can handle 1,050 people at one time, and will have a busy signal if capacity is reached.

The number for the Vaccine Appointment Assist Line is 877-918-2224.

State officials anticipate staffers can take up to 10,000 calls a day. They operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Appointments can be scheduled online through the Vaccine Administration Management System. State officials said people are required to first submit a form to get access to the system.

Individual providers, including Hartford HealthCare, Stamford Health, Yale New Haven Health and Middlesex Health, offer vaccine scheduling through company websites or by phone.

CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies also schedule appointments online and can be done through the company websites.

What is planned for teachers?

Teachers, though eligible through normal registration, are being asked to wait for local clinics scheduled by their school districts.

In a memo last week, DPH said it could take up to several weeks for the clinics to be held. Though local health departments are taking the lead in some communities, other school districts may partner with private providers.

“Not all health departments will need to serve as the primary vaccinator — education and child care institutions may work with hospitals or other vaccinators, or enable their employees to go through clinics open to the public,” the DPH memo reads.

Officials do not expect this to slow the vaccine process for the general public. If a local health department shifts to school employee-only clinics, the state will have providers available in those communities, according to Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer.

Which vaccine will be available this week?

With the approval Saturday of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, state officials said there will be three vaccines available starting this week.

While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires just one shot.

Connecticut was initially expecting 30,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, but were notified over the weekend that the state’s allocation had been increased to 40,000.

Geballe on Sunday said providers have been instructed to show which vaccine was being offered with corresponding appointment slots when individuals register.

“We encourage everyone to take the first vaccine that comes available to them,” Geballe said.

How long will it take?

The wait could be several days or weeks for people who become eligible Monday to make appointments, officials said.

While the federal supply of vaccines will continue to increase every week, there still are not enough vaccines for everyone who is eligible at once.

This week, Connecticut expects to get roughly 100,000 first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, along with 40,000 of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“We are expecting a lot of the newly eligible people to rush out (Monday) to book an appointment. ... People should be prepared to be patient, but know they will get their turn within the next couple of weeks,” Geballe said.