PROVIDENCE — Only a portion of Rhode Island’s population has received sign-up links to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and the state is telling them to stop sharing it.
In a late Facebook post Tuesday night, the Rhode Island Department of Health said some residents who are eligible to receive their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine have started sharing their sign-up links to book appointments.
“Unfortunately, it has come to RIDOH’s attention that these links are being shared,” read the post. “People who are not eligible for vaccination will not be able to gain access to a vaccination clinic.”
RIDOH, which has not provided residents with a detailed plan on how to sign up for the vaccine once they are eligible, said it has not launched a public vaccination signup website. Instead, links to book an appointment have been sent to eligible outpatient providers to register.
Residents reporting to an outpatient provider vaccination clinic will have to provide identification and verification of employment, and will be turned away if they cannot provide the documentation or if their name does not match a pre-approved list.
Joseph Wendelken, the spokesman for RIDOH, did not respond to questions asking how many people were deemed ineligible and turned away after filling out the forms on these links.
RIDOH said that while doses of the COVID-19 vaccines will be stored safely and used for the next vaccination event, sharing of the links is disrupting the overall rollout of the vaccine.
“Unauthorized sharing of registration links denies an eligible health care worker the opportunity to be vaccinated that day and delays the rollout of vaccine to all Rhode Islanders,” read the post.
In January, hundreds of vaccine appointments were cancelled as people who were not yet eligible to get vaccinated cut the line using links intended for emergency workers and first responders, 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.
The news comes as some cities and town in Rhode Island received vaccine doses last weekend 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.
In many cases, appointment slots were filled within an hour, which left many residents, most of them older citizens, confused.
Providence City Council President Sabina Matos said during a meeting Tuesday night that she wants to see the data on who received a vaccine over the weekend, and if it reflects the communities in Providence.
“Are we leaving people behind in the process?” asked Matos.
On Wednesday, Cranston Mayor Kenneth J. Hopkins announced a continued rollout of the city’s COVID-19 vaccination program, where residents over the age of 75 can pre-register to receive the vaccine using an online form. The form, which has questions in English and Spanish, asks for a resident’s address, date of birth, street address, phone number, and e-mail address.
The form’s instructions, which explain who is eligible to pre-register and next steps, is only available in English.
According to an announcement by the mayor’s office, a list will be established for when the city receives vaccines from the state, which it anticipates to be in mid-February.
However, filling out the form does not guarantee an appointment.
“The online form will make it easier for our community to sign-up for the vaccine once more are made available to our city from the state,” said Hopkins in a statement.
Following pre-registration, qualifying residents will be contacted by a city representative based on age, with oldest residents continuing to receive priority.
AARP posted information regarding Rhode Island’s vaccine distribution plan, which they said will be updated often for seniors with frequently asked questions. There, AARP State Director Kathleen Connell reiterated previous statements, urging the state to ensure that there will be a fully inclusive and accessible system in place for all Rhode Islanders.
“That includes a website and a statewide centralized phone number staff with live support, to assist all Rhode Islanders in accessing timely information that guarantees an orderly and expeditious means of getting vaccinated,” said Connell.
AARP Rhode Island previously launched a petition that called on Governor Gina M. Raimondo and other state officials to prioritize Rhode Islanders 50 and older in the state’s vaccination plan.
“The governor and state leaders must revise the vaccination plan so that it focuses on the most vulnerable among us,” read the statement. “We know we can make a difference.”