Delaware opens vaccine recipient pool to people 50 and older, younger people with health issues

Brandon Holveck
Delaware News Journal

With COVID-19 vaccine supply expected to continue increasing, Delaware is expanding who is eligible to be vaccinated.

Delawareans 50 and older and Delawareans 16 and older with medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19 will be able to start scheduling vaccine appointments Wednesday.

The change in eligibility requirements, announced by state officials Tuesday, moves Delaware closer to fulfilling President Joe Biden's promise of opening vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1. It greatly expands the state's vaccine recipient pool, which has included only about 28% of Delawareans over roughly the past two months.

Gov. John Carney on Tuesday said the state is expecting its vaccine allocation to continue increasing and has recently seen less interest in its vaccination events among those currently eligible, making it appropriate to expand eligibility.

People in phase 1A and people 65 and older line up to receive the second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during the first day of a six-day vaccination event at Dover International Speedway.

HOW TO SIGN UP: Am I eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Delaware? If so, how do I get it?

Eligibility:Delaware to begin next vaccine phase on March 17, focusing on residents with health issues

He also said Delaware will shift its vaccine plan in the coming weeks to an age-based allocation to accelerate vaccine distribution, but the state wanted to fulfill its commitment to getting people with high-risk medical conditions vaccinated.

Delaware is one of about a dozen states that have not included people with certain health conditions in their vaccine recipient pools.

"We really have to get out of the 1A, 1B, 1C perspective and just accelerate putting vaccines in people's arms across the board while meeting our obligation to those with pre-existing conditions," Carney said.

The state will also continue working with employers to vaccinate essential workers.

Oaklyn Crumpler, of Wilmington, (left) receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Seeds of Greatness Bible Church near New Castle on Friday, March 5, 2021.

As of Tuesday, 331,734 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Delaware. About 13% of Delaware's population is fully vaccinated.

Delawareans 50 and older will be able to get vaccinated at pharmacies starting Wednesday, and the state will open its vaccine waiting list to everyone 50 and older next Tuesday.

The first state mass vaccination event drawing from the 50 and older waiting list will be March 26 to March 28 at Dover International Speedway. The state is planning more appointment-only events in New Castle and Sussex counties, Delaware Emergency Management Director AJ Schall said.

1-YEAR MARK: Carney discusses COVID-19 vaccine rollout and early days of the pandemic

People 16 and older with high-risk or moderate-risk medical conditions and caregivers will be able to get vaccinated through health care providers, including hospitals, starting Wednesday.

State officials said health care providers will determine who within the group gets vaccinated first based on their histories with each patient and "clinical judgment."

"We don’t have the resources or the ability, frankly, to determine who has those conditions," Carney said. "Our health care providers do."

Governor John Carney speaks during his weekly press conference on the state of COVID-19 in Delaware Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, at the Carvel State Building in Wilmington.

The state has asked providers to reach out to their highest-risk patients and said those with high-risk or moderate-risk medical conditions and caregivers should contact their medical provider to ask about vaccination opportunities. The state has directed providers who are not vaccinating patients to refer them to hospital systems.

Below are the conditions that qualify people for the vaccine, although the list is not all-inclusive – conditions not listed can be considered.

High-risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Down syndrome
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies
  • Immunocompromised state from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index of 30 kg/m or higher)
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Current or former cigarette smoker
  • Intellectual or developmental disability
  • Severe and persistent mental/behavioral health condition
  • Pregnancy

Moderate risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids or use of other immune-weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Overweight (BMI > 25 kg/m2, but < 30 kg/m2)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis

Delaware does not have an estimate of how many people have these medical conditions. The figure is likely a large percentage of the population.

In a 2019 survey by the Division of Public Health, 34.4% of Delaware adults reported being obese, and another 34.5% reported BMIs considered overweight.

The same survey found 15.9% of Delaware adults are cigarette smokers. Another 26.3% of respondents were former smokers.

"The reality is over the coming month so many Delawareans are going to be able to get vaccinated, so we’re hoping that Delawareans don’t sort of have this approach of 'well I’m at a higher risk than this person,'" Rattay said. "We need to let the providers decide and everyone to recognize that those individuals who are at risk by age or chronic condition are all going to have an opportunity in the next month to get vaccinated."

Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health speaks to the media during a briefing on the current status of the coronavirus pandemic in Delaware Tuesday, July 14, 2020, at the Carvel State Building in Wilmington.

Delaware will continue vaccinating front-line essential workers who were included in phase 1B such as grocery store employees and poultry plant workers. After working through the 1B-eligible groups, the state will move on to other essential workers. Around 160 employers have contacted the state to develop vaccination plans for their employees, Carney said.

Essential workers are being vaccinated through state partnerships at workplaces and state-run vaccination events. Employers who have not contacted the Division of Public Health should email vaccineplanning@delaware.gov to begin developing vaccination plans for their employees.

The state spent the past two months focused on delivering vaccines to the roughly 186,000 Delawareans 65 and older.

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Rattay on Tuesday said at least 67% of older adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine and about 40% are considered fully vaccinated.

Those who are still on the state's 65 and older waiting list have been offered an opportunity to get vaccinated in the next two weeks, state officials said Tuesday. Any Delawarean who is 65 or older, wants to be vaccinated and is not currently registered for the state's vaccination waiting list should register at vaccinerequest.delaware.gov.

 "This is your last best chance," Rattay said.

This month, the state has also prioritized vaccinating teachers and school staff and started to expand vaccination opportunities for essential workers. Every employee of a K-12 school in Delaware who indicated they wanted to be vaccinated has been offered an opportunity to be vaccinated, the state said.

People in phase 1A and people 65 and older line up to check in before receiving the second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during the first day of a six-day vaccination event at Dover International Speedway.

For several weeks in January and February, state officials said supply from the federal government was the primary factor keeping the state from vaccinating more people and broadening its vaccine recipient pool.

Now, the infrastructure officials say they have developed in that time will be tested.

Delaware is expecting to receive 47,000 doses this week and 45,000 doses in each of the next two weeks. Walgreens pharmacies and federally qualified health centers in the state are also receiving vaccines directly from the federal government. 

The numbers are roughly in line with what the state has received the past two weeks.

But, Carney expects the supply to continue to grow from there. He said the state is expecting a large amount of Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the beginning of April and will receive around that amount regularly in the weeks following. To date, Delaware has received only one shipment of the J&J vaccine (8,000 doses).

A Division of Public Health spokesperson said the agency does not have an indication of how many J&J vaccine doses they will receive. The projections for the next three weeks include only the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The state has 78,161 unused doses. Carney said a "good portion" of them are with pharmacies and some have been used but haven't been reported yet.

"When May gets here, it’ll be easy," Schall said. "No more policing who signs up. We’ll just need to get people in the door."

Have other questions about vaccine distribution? Contact reporter Brandon Holveck at bholveck@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @holveck_brandon.