Lamont: Pfizer Booster Shots Ready For 270,000 Over 65 Years

An estimated 270,000 Connecticut residents who are 65 years and older and who originally received Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, including nursing home residents, can begin getting their third booster shot as soon as Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont's administration said Thursday.

Residents ages 50 to 64 with risky underlying health conditions and who received the Pfizer vaccine will also be allowed to obtain a third dose at more than 800 locations across the state. They can be found online.

The news comes as advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed Thursday that boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 with health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

“We’ve been preparing for this,” said Josh Geballe, Lamont's chief operating officer. “We’ve been expecting this, and our providers have as well. They’re ready to go.”

There are an estimated 160,000 people in the state under 65 years old with underlying health conditions who received the Pfizer vaccine. It's unclear how many are age 50 to 64. The federal government still hasn’t considered boosters for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and has no data on whether it’s safe or effective to mix-and-match and give those people a Pfizer shot.

In other coronavirus-related news in Connecticut:

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INDOOR AIR QUALITY

Municipal leaders, teachers, school staff and school boards and superintendents teamed up Thursday to demand the state provide more funding to help cover the high cost of improving air quality in hundreds of aging schools, an issue that's been highlighted by the pandemic.

The governor, however, noted that local superintendents have received about $500 million in federal COVID-relief funds and they have “broad discretion over how that money is spent."

During a news conference, Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said the money falls far short of what's needed to install air conditioning, upgrade old HVAC systems and improve air quality in some buildings that are more than 100 years old.

“Everyone seems to think that there are untold numbers of ESSER dollars,” she said, referring to the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was part of the American Rescue Act of 2021.

But Rabinowitz said half of the state's districts received less than $5 million, while the average cost of upgrading HVAC systems in one elementary school can range from $5 million to $6 million.

Many districts have relied on the funding to pay for other initiatives to help students recover from learning loss last school year and other pandemic-recovery expenses, leaving little to cover the cost of HVAC projects, she said.

A survey conducted by the superintendents' association of more than 100 school districts in Connecticut found there are currently 233 elementary schools and 42 grade 9-12 schools that do not have air conditioning. Those figures do not include schools with outdated HVAC systems. It's unclear how much it will cost to upgrade buildings throughout the state.

Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, called on the General Assembly to get involved, noting lawmakers vote on Lamont's plan for spending federal rescue funds. There is approximately $280 million in remaining American Rescue Plan money for Connecticut that has not yet been allocated.

But Paul Mounds, Lamont's chief of staff, said that money is being kept “in reserve” and “will be evaluated on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis” as the pandemic continues to play out.

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SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS

Lamont said his administration has been working to “accelerate getting additional bus drivers in place” in order to bring students to school next week in case large numbers of school bus drivers decide not to get required vaccinations or testing.

“I can tell you we have some health care drivers, they’ll be able to step in and help for some of those kids with special needs,” said Lamont, adding that he has not yet received any requests from local school districts to have members of the Connecticut National Guard drive the school busses.

Lamont recently signed an executive order that requires staff at pre-K-12 schools statewide to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. Several school bus drivers from Bristol told members of the General Assembly's Conservative Caucus on Wednesday they are unwilling to get vaccinated or tested and expected they might lose their jobs.

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UNEMPLOYMENT OVERPAYMENTS

Leaders of the General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee on Thursday called on the state Department for Labor to waive unemployment compensation overpayments that are being billed to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Later in the day, the governor said if there were inadvertent errors, “I think there are ways that we can mediate that without causing a lot of distress.”

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, told the Hartford Courant that House Democrats may take up legislation requiring the state to cover the cost, which is estimated to be $6 million to $10 million.

Juliet Manalan, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, told the Courant overpayments not related to fraud stemmed from delays by employers who may have disputed a claim after benefits had already been paid. She said there are also cases where applicants made filing errors or the agency made a mistake.