Letter: Vaccine rollout overlooks RI's rural senior citizens

Posted 2/7/21

To the editor:

The federal government, which tell us to “follow the science,” has said that it’s critical that Rhode Island prioritize its population of 65 or older citizens to …

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Letter: Vaccine rollout overlooks RI's rural senior citizens


To the editor:

The federal government, which tell us to “follow the science,” has said that it’s critical that Rhode Island prioritize its population of 65 or older citizens to get them the vaccine as quickly as possible. They even announced a boost in vaccine supply to make that happen, but our Rhode Island political and RI Health Department leadership now say that the can’t make that promise and are not ready to expand vaccinations to the older population.

I guess I was skeptical when I first heard that the vaccine was actually being rolled out with influence from political leaders. I can readily understand that those people who met the definition of high risk and high exposure should obviously receive the vaccine first. That includes nurses, physicians, nursing home residents and workers, first responders and many others who come in direct contact with Covid patients.

The senior citizens I know would be very willing to sacrifice their place in the queue to those high risk and high exposure individuals who have done such a miraculous job in battling the pandemic and saving lives.

But when I recently read that Rhode Island has changed its rules contrary to what the CDC was recommending, I wondered why. Then I read the report coming from the spokesperson at two of Rhode Island’s larges health care networks saying that many of their “wealthy, well-connected board members” were being offered the vaccine … Wow!

Aside from the vaccine roll-out issue, it seems that seniors 75 and over and living in some of Rhode Island’s somewhat isolated towns also drew the short straw when it came to Covid testing. Before departing Rhode Island for greener pastures in DC, Governor Raimondo and her health director were appearing almost nightly on TV telling Rhode Islanders to get tested and how easy it was to do that,.

If you don’t live in the greater Providence area, just see how easy it really is.

Our small town did not have its own testing site. The closest testing site was a half hour away at a CVS in a neighboring town. Not an easy drive if you’re sick, but nonetheless I went to the CVS website to get an appointment. After nearly 100 attempts at all times of day and night, there was zero availability.

Next option, go to the state’s online portal and register — a very challenging experience for many senior citizens who are already challenged by the digital divide. I was at a loss for where to turn. Its wasn’t until my children got involved that I was able to find out about a pop-up testing site about a 45-minute drive away, by the Newport Bridge. By that point I had had Covid symptoms for more than five days.

Many of our elderly population, some over 90 years old, have become emotionally frustrated with the process and actually never bothered to get tested.

How many folks out there have been impacted by these barriers? 

Going forward, I would recommend, number one, that the Rhode Island Health Department communicate more effectively with the elderly population living in these rural areas and, as needed, send staff to these communities maybe a day or two a week during the pandemic at a local community center to do the Covid testing and provide the vaccine injections. This would help remove the barriers and help our seniors maintain their quality of life.

Secondly, Rhode Island should follow the CDC guidelines as recommended and avoid any and all political influence or special favors so as to provide the necessary vaccine needed by the elderly population.

Lastly, who made the decision to place Rhode Island seniors in the fifth tier for being vaccinated? Contrary to the federal regulations, they may now have to wait until March or April to get vaccinated.

In my opinion, this is poor public policy and a disservice to those seniors who have helped Rhode Island become a wonderful place to live and work.

James G. Hagan

Little Compton

 — The writer is a former board member of the RI Hospital Association, former president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, and a former RI state senator.

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