PROVIDENCE — With only enough doses available to vaccinate about 1.5 percent of the state’s population against COVID-19 each week, Rhode Island health officials have been working to prioritize vaccinating those at highest risk first.
Several hundred people have already tried to cut in line anyway.
The line-jumpers were caught this week, after health officials realized that a special link given to employers for their workers to register for vaccinations was shared with others, said Alysia Mihalakos, the colead of the state’s COVID-19 mass vaccination workgroup and chief of Health’s Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response. She didn’t identify the employers.
Health officials were preparing to vaccinate about 5,000 EMS workers, police officers, firefighters, and home health care and hospice employees through five regional pods this week. They ended up taking down registration links and canceling hundreds of appointments after discovering that people who were ineligible in this phase of the rollout had made appointments for vaccinations, she said. Health officials are working with the vendor to make sure there are checkpoints so people can’t cheat the system.
“The demand for the vaccine is clearly high and people are willing to push others aside to get themselves and their loved ones vaccinated,” Mihalakos said during a remote news conference Tuesday. “We understand everyone’s concern, and we understand there are a lot of people at the front of the line, and we have limited amounts of vaccine.”
As of Tuesday, Rhode Island had received 46,000 doses of the vaccine, and more than 26,000 people had been vaccinated, said Dr. Philip Chan, an infectious disease expert with the state Health Department’s Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease and Emergency Medical Services. There have been no reports of Rhode Islanders suffering adverse side effects from the vaccine, he said.
However, Rhode Island is receiving fewer vaccine doses than the 17,000 or so per week it had originally hoped for only a month ago, Chan said.
At this rate, “it’s going to take a while to reach the whole state,” he said.
Tricia Washburn, chief of the Health Department’s Center for Preventive Services and coleader of the vaccine workgroup, said the state may get more weekly doses in two months. The federal government purchased an additional 100 million doses and, with other possible vaccine candidates in line for approval, Rhode Island and other states could get a boost, she said.
For now, though, simply vaccinating Rhode Islanders who are at highest-risk for COVID-19 is expected to take several months.
This week, the state is continuing to vaccinate hospital employees and patients at Eleanor Slater Hospital, medical staff and high-risk correctional officers and prisoners at the Adult Correctional Institutions, residents and staff of nursing homes, and residents of Central Falls, the tiny congested city that has borne the brunt of the pandemic.
Overall, health officials said, the vaccine is being received enthusiastically. At the congregate care settings — the prison and the nursing homes — many are eager to get the vaccine, Mihalakos said.
At the hospitals, Chan said, “there’s a lot of excitement. People are chomping at the bit.”