If you’re 75 years of age or older, a new way to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is now available.
And starting Monday, those 65 and older will be able to register for shots, too.
In an expected announcement, the governor’s office and Department of Health on Wednesday said two large, state-run vaccination sites – one at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, the other at the former Citizens Bank office building on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston – would begin vaccinating hundreds of seniors a day starting Thursday.
Registration for appointments opened at the state-run sites, which opened immediately, can be done online at VaccinateRI.org. An automated phone line, 844-930-1779, is also available. Appointments can be made by the person seeking a vaccine or by someone else on their behalf.
At the time of a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, health officials said roughly 1,300 people had already scheduled appointments at the state-run sites. As of Wednesday, appointments were being offered through Feb. 27.
According to health officials, the Providence site will be able to administer 500 shots a day to start, while the Cranston site will have the capacity to give 900 shots a day. The goal is to double that capacity within weeks.
To this point, the state’s approach to the rollout has made COVID-19 vaccination available to Rhode Islanders based on factors like risk and profession – nursing home residents and first responders, for example – as well as age, with a limit on those 75 and older.
On Monday, however, that approach will broader. Those 65 and older will be able to schedule vaccination appointments at the state-run Providence and Cranston sites through the same website and phone number listed above. Vaccination for people in that age group will begin Tuesday.
During the Zoom call with reporters, Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the expanded availability is in keeping with the schedule set out in the state’s age-based rollout strategy.
Acknowledging the growing criticism of Rhode Island’s rollout to date, however, she added: “I know people want doses administered more quickly. We hear you, and we agree as well. We get it 100 percent.”
Alexander-Scott said municipalities will continue to focus their locally run clinics on residents 75 and older, an approach she indicated has yielded positive results. When vaccination for the 65-plus population opens, those residents are being advised to utilize the state-run system. CVS and Walgreens also continue to offer vaccination appointments for those 75 and older.
Moving forward, Alexander-Scott said there are plans for a more centralized registration process as younger age groups become eligible for shots. That system, she said, will include the state-run sites and the local and regional “pods” that are being developed. The two pharmacy chains, she said, will continue to maintain a separate registration system.
Alexander-Scott said steps are being taken to make the online and phone registration processes “a little more user friendly.” “More appointments will be added as we go … We’re asking people to be patient,” she said.
A statement from the Department of Health also announces the launch of a new “Vaccine Information Notification List” for those under the age of 65. The list, the statement reads, will allow those who sign up to “get updates as eligibility opens to new groups,” adding: “Enrolling in this list does not guarantee an appointment for vaccination.” Signup can be completed at portal.ri.gov.
In another piece of welcome news, Alexander-Scott told reporters the state’s weekly allotment of vaccine from the federal government – which has been approximately 16,000 for several weeks – will increase to 22,500 next week. That amount is expected to remain steady for at least three weeks.
Alexander-Scott said the additional doses are being provided partially through an increase in supply, but that a shift on the part of drug manufacturer Pfizer – which is now advising that six doses, rather than five, can be drawn from a single vial – is a significant factor.
During the Zoom session reporters, as well as during a Facebook Live event featuring Gov. Gina Raimondo later in the afternoon, officials repeatedly defended the state’s rollout strategy. Recent reports indicate the state ranks lowest nationally in terms of the percentage of received vaccine doses that have been administered, and many have questioned why Rhode Island has not made vaccination more widely available.
Alexander-Scott said ““our strategy is meeting the main objectives of the first portion of our vaccination campaign in Rhode Island.” Those objectives, she said, are protecting residents of nursing homes and similar facilities – a group that has made up a large majority of the state’s COVID-related deaths – as well as frontline medical workers “to ensure we have a health care workforce.”
The health director said the state has seen a 46-percent drop in hospitalizations during the last month, a figure she said well surpasses national (32 percent) and regional (22 percent) declines. While the expansion of monoclonal antibody treatment and other factors have played a role, she said the approach to vaccination is owed a significant part of the credit for the improving numbers.
During the Facebook Live event, Raimondo – who has been largely removed from public view for weeks and is expected to be confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Commerce next week – said the “general COVID picture in Rhode Island looks very good.” She pointed to the decline in hospitalizations, a test positivity rate that is the “lowest it’s been in months,” and an R-naught of less than 1 – meaning, in scientific terms, that each infected Rhode Islander is spreading the coronavirus to less than one other person. “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re going to put the pedal to the medal on vaccinations … [But we are in a] safe, stable place with our COVID-19 response,” she said.