Above: Workers at the Swift Community Center vaccine clinic at the end of a second-dose vaccine day Monday. Distribution is restricted mainly to health care workers and first responders.
Rep. Caldwell says public needs more information; Sen. Raptakis seeks public signup portal and lottery
You see it on Facebook: the jubilant face of a friend or family member who’s just gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. They live in California, or Florida, or New York. They are 65. They are healthy. You’re happy for that friend or family member.
Until you think, “Wait! My parents in Rhode Island are 80 and they haven’t gotten the vaccine yet and we don’t know when they’ll get it.”
It makes you wonder – is Rhode Island getting the same number of vaccines per capita as other states?
According to R.I. Dept. of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken, we are.
“All states are getting the same amount per capita. Rhode Island is roughly 1/300th of the U.S. population, so we are getting roughly 1/300th of the vaccine available to the country each week,” he said Tuesday.
Up to now, that’s been around 28,000 doses – 14,000 first-shot doses and 14,000 second-shot doses. (That number could be going up; President Joe Biden said Tuesday he plans to send an additional 16 percent of doses to states starting next week.) Some states are not reserving the second doses but Rhode Island has made that decision.
Dr. Hub Brennan, the doctor overseeing East Greenwich’s regional vaccine clinic at Swift Community Center, said he supports the state’s vaccine plan.
“Rhode Island has taken a very conservative and I think appropriately conservative approach,” he said Monday at Swift, where second doses of the vaccine were being given to those health care workers, first responders and clinic workers who were part of the first round. “Other states are exhausting their supply and who knows if people will get their second dose,” Brennan said.
But he said he understood people’s frustration.
“All people are looking for is some guidance and some timelines and some answers. In truth, a lot of those answers aren’t there. In the absence of a federal program … the states have been left largely on their own,” he said.
“We have talented and smart elected and appointed officials doing the very best they can and I think we need to allow them to use their scientific data to make their decisions,” he continued. “You hear a lot of good arguments: teachers, grocery store workers. I heard a very good rationale for vaccinating members of grand juries. Every group might have their rationale for why they should go next but I still believe we need to continue to trust our state officials. They are relying on the data as good as we have it. They just can’t give us what they don’t have, which is more vaccine.”
Rep. Justine Caldwell (Dist. 30, EG, WG), said the state needs to do a better job of communicating its vaccine distribution plan.
“When COVID-19 first hit Rhode Island, our state’s political and public health leaders did an exemplary job of clearly communicating with Rhode Islanders about our state’s plan for suppressing COVID-19 and protecting our populations from the virus…. But as we enter the final phase of our response – immunizing our population against the disease – our state’s communication has not measured up,” she said via press release Monday.
”It’s the job of public health experts to decide how the vaccination program should work,” Caldwell said. “But it’s the job of the government to communicate how the program is going to work. We’re not living up to that.”
Sen. Lou Raptakis (Dist. 33, Cov., EG, WG) also weighed in on the topic this week, calling on the state to open up a public portal for members of the general public to sign up to get the vaccine.
“I want to suggest considering using the testing portal created by the department as a potential tool in rolling out vaccinations,” Raptakis wrote in a recent letter he sent to DOH Director Nicole Alexander-Scott.
“Once we take care of the elderly, those with medical conditions requiring immediate vaccination and our frontline workers, we should have a registration system in place to schedule vaccinations for the general public,” said Raptakis Tuesday via press release. “Once we have a majority of Rhode Islanders registered, there could be a lottery system based on birthdate similar to what FDR did with the military service draft in October 1940 as the most fair and reasonable approach.”
In addition, Raptakis said he was did not think members of the General Assembly should be prioritized for the vaccination, as has been suggested.
Also looking ahead, Hub Brennan said he thought clinics like the one at Swift could be used to vaccinate the wider public, though probably the locations would need to be larger than Swift to accommodate all the people who will need the shot. He said he’s been very pleased with how smoothly the EG clinic has run. Out of the hundreds of vaccines administered, only a couple of people have reported reactions, including one woman who reported getting a rash.
In addition to clinics like Swift, there are plans for CVS and Walgreens to start scheduling vaccinations online – once they are done administering the vaccine at nursing homes.
Brennan reiterated he understood many people’s frustration and he made this pledge: “Make no mistake, we will do whatever it takes to get this done – to get this behind us.”
If you have a question about the vaccine process in Rhode Island, you can submit a question to RI DOH here: RIDOH.COVID19Questions@health.ri.gov.