Vaccine eligibility to widely expand next month

While first responders and several other groups of at-risk populations have already been vaccinated, a large portion of residents ages 16 and over are rumored to be eligible by mid-April. 

 

McKee looks to offer vaccine for all Rhode Islanders 16+

RHODE ISLAND — Next month, the majority of Ocean State residents will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Gov. Dan McKee. 

Beginning April 19, Rhode Islanders 16 years of age or older will be able to book appointments — though McKee warns that limited supplies and high demand will likely make scheduling difficult. 

“I think it’s important that Rhode Islanders know when we open up eligibility on the 19th, that does not mean everyone will receive a vaccine on the 20th,” the governor announced last week. “It may take a few weeks for individuals to get their appointment.”

Still, the governor encourages everyone to embrace the same steadfast efforts thousands of other Rhode Islanders have already displayed in getting the vaccine. With the help of Rhode Islanders, along with enough supply, McKee hopes to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of making every adult eligible for the vaccine by May. 

“If Rhode Island can get the vaccine supply we need, we can achieve and beat this goal,” McKee said. “And we’re confident the president will deliver.”

Reportedly, the federal government will be increasing vaccine allotments for every state, though the governor and Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott are requesting the White House allocate an additional 50,000 doses to Rhode Island each week. This request, according to McKee, will help the Ocean State play its part in meeting President Biden’s other goal of getting the first dose to every American’s arm by the end of May.

Ideally, McKee hopes to see the Ocean State administer 150,000 doses each week. 

At the time of McKee’s announcement, 136,513 Rhode Islanders were already fully vaccinated. This incredible feat, according to Alexander-Scott, translates to roughly 12 percent of the state’s population.

“That means, for the first time, we can say that more people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 than we have in Rhode Island that have been infected with COVID-19,” she said. “I think we should all take a moment to reflect on how important that is.”

The number of vaccinated individuals has continued to steadily climb in the days since. As of Tuesday, an additional 37,878 are counted as being fully vaccinated, according to statistics from the Rhode Island Department of Health. Statistics from that same day also show 305,130 first doses have already been administered. 

In addition to procuring enough supply, the Rhode Island Department of Health is also working to improve vaccine access and equity. According to Alexander-Scott, the department is closely working with municipalities, the COVID-19 Equity Council, Health Equity Zones and other partners to “narrow the gaps we have and are seeing in our COVID-19 vaccination rates – particularly in those communities that have been harder hit.”

Executive Director of COVID Response Thomas McCarthy announced plans to open two more, large state vaccination sites — one in Woonsocket, along with another somewhere in South County – by the end of the month. This will be contingent on receiving more vaccination supply, though the state also hopes to see three additional vaccine sites supported by cities and towns, according to McCarthy. 

These sites are meant to be open to all Rhode Islanders, he said, and will likely be spread out throughout the state. One is planned for Westerly and another in East Providence, but the third site has not been determined yet. According to McCarthy, this third site will likely be located in the north western region of the state. 

In addition to state sites, McCarthy also noted that new vaccination sites, like Wal-Mart and Stop & Shop, will be another option for Rhode Islanders.

Both Alexander-Scott and McCarthy acknowledged how difficult it can be to schedule vaccine appointments at the moment, though. 

“We are asking you to hang in there,” Alexander-Scott said. “Be patient with us. It is just a little while longer, and we will make sure we get there. We are ready and we are able to get vaccines into arms when the vaccine arrives here in Rhode Island.”

The prior week, vaccine eligibility was opened to people ages 60 to 64, along with those 16 to 64 years old with underlying health conditions, according to McCarthy. The most recent expansion of eligibility meant “demand far outpaces supply.”

“This wasn’t something unexpected, and we appreciate everyone’s patience,” she said. “Any day we open eligibility to these groups, especially at this stage of the campaign, we would have far outpaced the supply we received from the federal government.”

“With that, we’re continuing to improve our scheduling experience, with more information to follow in the coming weeks,” he added. “But the good news, as Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said,  supply increases are on the way.”

Until the majority of the state has received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, however, both McKee and Alexander-Scott stressed the importance of continuing to wear a mask outside the house and maintaining social distance guidelines. 

“Mask wearing remains critical – even more so now than ever,” Alexander-Scott said. “It’s the place I keep bringing us back to because of how effective mask wearing is.”

“We all have a little COVID-fatigue right now,” she continued. “That’s understood and appreciated, but the more we can encourage each other and remind our loved ones to protect our household, the better we can do.”

Following guidelines isn’t only important to public health, according to Commerce Secretary Stephen Pryor, but to the state economy. 

Because of improving case numbers and conditions, Rhode Islanders have been able to enjoy less and less restrictions. As of last Friday, indoor dining, catered events and houses of worship were allowed to operate with 75 percent capacity. Retailers, gyms and personal care businesses were also able to operate with lesser square footage restrictions. As the state has continued reopening, social gatherings may now include up to 15 individuals. 

“This incremental relief begins to put Rhode Island in line with our neighboring states,” McKee said. “At the same time, I want to remind Rhode Islanders to be disciplined in the ways that we follow the protocols, so we can have a reopening that’s safe.”

In the meantime, while the state works to get more vaccines in arms and combat vaccine hesitancy, Rhode Islanders are urged to continue wearing a mask, test regularly and practice safe social distancing.  This is especially important, according to Alexander-Scott, as new and highly infectious strains of the virus emerge.  

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