Hundreds of first responders from communities across the state will be among the first community members in Rhode Island to receive the COVID-19 vaccine this week.
Both East Greenwich and South Kingstown were chosen as regional vaccine sites to serve a number of neighboring communities, and officially began administering the vaccine on Monday.
According to East Greenwich Fire Chief Bernard L. Patenaude — whose department was among the hardest hit in Rhode Island — the first vaccine group was “originally scheduled for last week, but was postponed with the switch of the vaccine.”
The Town of East Greenwich, in partnership with the City of Warwick and the Rhode Island Department of Health was able to vaccinate nearly 300 healthcare workers, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical services staff as of Monday afternoon, with more tests scheduled in the week to follow.
East Greenwich served as the mid-state regional site, which also included first responders from Coventry, Cranston, Exeter, West Greenwich, West Warwick and Warwick.
Those eligible to receive the vaccine, which is taking place at the Swift Community Center, must have a scheduled appointment, be wearing a face mask, use hand sanitizer and be fever-free, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health.
This is the first of two rounds, according to an official Facebook post from the Town of East Greenwich, which shared that first responders will be returning 28 days later for their second Moderna vaccine.
Clinical trials of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be about 95 percent effective, which could prove incredibly important to departments that often interact with members of the public and come into close contact with one another on the job.
In East Greenwich, an emergency town council meeting was called shortly before Thanksgiving after 21 members of the fire department tested positive for COVID-19, which left the department severely understaffed, according to Town Manager Andrew Nota.
“We have eight firefighters that are eligible to be in the field,” Nota told members of the council last month.“Clearly, that’s not going to cover us on a 24/7 basis for the next several weeks. Those numbers just don’t work and it’s not possible to make that happen.”
According to Patenaude, “all of the East Greenwich firefighters that were out with COVID-19 are back at work with the exception of one.”
“Hopefully the firefighter will be well enough to return to work shortly,” he wrote in an email communication on Monday.
Thankfully, the North Kingstown Fire Department helped to ensure that East Greenwich didn’t go understaffed during this time.
Other towns faced staffing challenges too.
The Narragansett Police Department had seven staff members test positive over the course of a month and all throughout the station, according to Chief Sean Corrigan, from patrol and detective units to dispatch.
“Fortunately, everyone had mild to no symptoms,” Corrigan said. “We didn’t have anyone get seriously sick.”
“Initially, I put some people out [to quarantine], but we already had some systems in place to minimize the contact between people,” he added. “Once I started getting positive cases I had to make it even stricter — essentially really controlling who was coming into the station and what everybody was doing.”
Another tool he began to utilize was routine, weekly testing. Multiple staff members who tested positive for the virus were asymptomatic, and told Corrigan that they never would have known they were positive without it.
On Monday, members of the Narragansett Police Department were able to sign up for their first Moderna vaccine at South Road School in South Kingstown. Other first responder communities to be vaccinated at this regional site included Charlestown, Westerly, Jamestown and North Kingstown, according to Corrigan.
At the moment, the site is also being used as an asymptomatic testing site.
Although the vaccine isn’t mandated, several hundred first responders had already registered to receive their vaccine that first day of administration. On Monday, there was a 12 hour window for vaccine registration, according to Corrigan, though testing will also be offered this weekend.
The large window of time also makes sure everyone is socially distancing while in line, screening for possible fever or symptoms, and being held afterward for the 15 minutes of observation.
Corrigan scheduled his vaccine test for later in the week, on his last day of duty before a few days off, in case he experiences any side effects. This is encouraged in the event that first responders feel any kind of symptoms, other than some soreness at the injection site, that might cause them to miss time out of work.
Same as the first responders receiving their vaccines at the East Greenwich regional site, first responders who received their first vaccine at South Road School will need to return in 28 days to receive their second dose.
“It’s pretty exciting to be doing something positive associated with COVID,” Corrigan said.