PAWTUCKET — When officials announced on Jan. 28 that they would begin expanding access to the COVID-19 vaccine to residents between the ages of 65 and 75, few details were released explaining how anxious residents could sign up for a shot.
On Tuesday afternoon, Woonsocket-based CVS Health announced that beginning Feb. 11, four retail locations in Rhode Island will begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible populations. Participating pharmacies include locations in East Greenwich, Westerly, and Woonsocket. The fourth location will be announced at a later date, according to company spokesman Matt Blanchette.
Courtney Hawkins, director of Health and Human Services, said during a Providence City Council meeting Tuesday night that CVS will not limit their doses to the residents of the community their retail pharmacy is located in.
The availability of COVID-19 vaccines in Rhode Island is part of the company’s initial rollout, which includes 335 retail pharmacy locations in 11 states, which include Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Hawaii.
“One of our greatest strengths as a company is our presence in communities across the country, which makes us an ideal partner for administering vaccines in a safe, convenient, and familiar manner,” said Karen Lynch, the chief executive of CVS Health in a statement.
Rhode Island residents, who meet the state criteria, must register in advance on CVS’s website or through the CVS Pharmacy app. For those without access to the internet, they can call customer service (800-746-7287).
Walk-in vaccinations will not be provided, according to Blanchette.
Hawkins made clear Tuesday night that there will be many different communication channels for Rhode Islanders to get additional information regarding the vaccine and how to receive a dose when they are eligible for one.
When asked which portal residents should go to in order to receive information - ones that have been developed, or are being developed, by specific cities and town, such as Providence, or the portal being developed by the R.I. Department of Health, Hawkins said, “I wish my answer was easy, but it’s not.”
“What will be hard is that like testing, there will be multiple pathways for vaccine and there’s no way around it,” said Hawkins, who said the state will be announcing additional details during a press conference on Thursday, and in the coming weeks. “We recognize that this is confusing.”
Last weekend, some cities and towns, such as Providence, received doses from the state that hadn’t been accounted for yet. In just a few days, many of these municipalities had to communicate registration forms for limited doses on short notice, said Hawkins.
In many cases, appointment slots were filled within an hour, which left many residents who were largely older citizens, confused.
Council President Sabina Matos said she wants to see the data on who received a vaccine over the weekend, and if reflects the neighborhoods of Providence.
“Are we leaving people behind in this process?” asked Matos.
Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan said she heard from constituents after this past weekend that they didn’t understand how to register, and said all communication needs to be more streamlined moving forward.
“We should be pushing out the same, consistent message,” said Ryan. “I think we caused a lot of anxiety in the process.”
The news comes as the city of Pawtucket announced Tuesday morning that residents can now fill out an online form to get more information on upcoming COVID-19 vaccination clinics when they are announced by the Rhode Island Department of Health.
The form, also available in Spanish and Portuguese, requests basic contact information in addition to the resident’s age and birthday.
However, the form does not serve as a pre-registration for any upcoming clinics, and residents will still have to consult with the city or call the BEAT COVID-19 hotline (855-843-7620) to register for an appointment when they qualify.
“There has been a strong demand for vaccination and information from our community,” said Mayor Donald R. Grebien. “The form will make it easier for residents to know that they will be contacted for an opportunity to sign up once vaccines are available. We want our residents to be assured that they will not be overlooked when the time comes.”
The announcement made clear that there is no vaccine clinic information yet, but the city anticipates that vaccines will be made available to those over the age of 75 in mid-February.
Grebien said in a statement that the city is exploring the possibility of hosting clinics on both sides of the city in order for aging populations to access them easily.