Health officials: More than 51,000 Rhode Islanders at least partially inoculated

Work continues, and state is ordering as much vaccine as officials can get

By Ted Hayes
Posted 1/15/21

More than 51,000 Rhode Islanders had been at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus by Friday morning, according to state Department of Health officials, with 9,243 of them fully …

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Health officials: More than 51,000 Rhode Islanders at least partially inoculated

Work continues, and state is ordering as much vaccine as officials can get

Posted

More than 51,000 Rhode Islanders had been at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus by Friday morning, according to state Department of Health officials, with 9,243 of them fully inoculated against the virus.
State Department of Health officials updated the public on inoculation efforts Friday morning, noting that inoculations for the state's highest priority groups continue as fast as doses becomes available.

"Rhode Island continues to be in a pretty good place in terms of Covid," said Dr. Philip Chan, the consultant medical director at the Department of Health's Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease and Emergency Medical Services.

Inoculation rates "are per capita much higher than the majority of the other states. Demand for vaccine remains high," he said.
Still, supply of the two vaccines currently in use lags behind the state's needs.

"The State of Rhode Island does not have the supply right now," he said. "If we could, we definitely would vaccinate everyone who wants one. That is our goal eventually."

Phase I of the state's inoculation efforts continues. This week, DOH workers and their private sector partners vaccinated employees and patients at the Eleanor Slater hospital, volunteers and staff assisting mass vaccination efforts, medical staff and high risk patients at the state's correctional facility, EMS professionals, nursing home residents and staff, and other workers primarily in the health care sector.

Next week, the plan is to begin administering second doses among those cohorts and others, among other efforts. Officials said it would be speculation at this point to predict when Phase II of inoculations get underway.

Department of Health officials said they are hopeful that the state will see more vaccine doses coming soon, after federal officials recently announced that they would stop "holding" back vaccine second doses to states.
However, officials say it will still be some time before mass vaccinations for the general public will be held.

"We're hopeful that the federal government will increase our supply," Dr. Chan said. "Until they do so, we don't think it would be responsible to open it up ... and frankly lead to some unsafe situations that we've seen in some other states."

The 41,197 Rhode Islanders at least partially inoculated to date come out of a total pool of 72,175 doses the state has received so far, Tricia Washburn, the chief of the Department of Health's Center for Preventative Services said Friday. Both vaccines require two doses to be up to 95 percent effective, and she and Dr. Chan said the state is continuing to see a high percentage of people who want both doses. In total, 51,220 doses have been administered.

"We're very happy to see the progress," she said. "We continue to order the maximum number of doses allocated every week from the federal guidance."

Going forward, she said, there is word from the federal government that allocations to states will be based on doses administered vs. those received, and the proportion of those over the age of 65 as a total percentage of each state's population.

Officials said Friday morning that they are working as hard as possible to ensure that as few doses as possible are wasted. Though they did not have figures, officials said the amount of wastage in Rhode Island is very low.
"Very early on we put a policy in place ... to ensure that no doses are wasted," Ms. Washburn said.

Alysia Mihalakos, chief for the Department of Heatlh's Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said that as officials work to lay out the coming weeks and months, one of many priorities is to ensure that when mass vaccination clinics are possible, the state will have the infrastructural capacity, and paid and volunteer workers, to administer them. Right now, she said, the plan is to focus on the utilization of schools as mass vaccination sites.

"We have really strong plans for over 75 different sites in Rhode Island that we could activate," as well as a handful of other sites statewide, she said. "If we do receive an influx of vaccine we're able to very quickly pivot."
State officials have received information of some people improperly seeking to receive doses even though they're not in the priority groups currently authorized to get them. Officials said it's an important issue that they are taking seriously, and they are reaching out to employers, employees and others to ensure that doses go where they're most needed and warranted.

"People will try to gain access to the system when they are not in the priority group," Ms. Mihalakos said. "We are continuing to work with employers (so) we can validate each day ... who is and who is not on the list to be eligible."

There is good news from the research front, as well, including the trial of the Novavax vaccine being carried out by Lifespan/Brown University, Dr. Chan said. Volunteers are actively being sought to participate in those trials, he said.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.