WOONSOCKET, R.I. — After weeks of frustration, seniors in Rhode Island and Massachusetts may be better able to secure an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Woonsocket-based CVS Health will begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible recipients beginning Feb. 12 at select locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts through a new partnership with the federal government, the company confirmed Thursday.
The pharmacy chain had already started vaccinating some seniors last weekend, but doses were limited at the six retail locations that received them. This partnership with the federal government will allow Rhode Island to receive approximately “just south of 4,000″ additional doses each week in addition to those it gets through the existing state program, according to Dillon Rybka, the company’s regional director and COVID-19 depot leader.
The goal, he said, is to have 200 doses available per day, per store, with about 24 shots given each hour. The vaccine will be administered each week from Friday to Monday.
“But that’s all contingent on supply,” Rybka told the Globe on Thursday. Demand is so great, he said, that nearly all available appointments in Rhode Island were “mostly — if not all — booked for the weekend” by early Thursday afternoon.
Eligible residents can book an appointment through the CVS vaccine portal for locations in Providence, Newport, East Greenwich, Woonsocket, and Westerly. Rybka said more locations may be added to the federal program, depending on supply shipments, but he said he could not comment on which additional locations would open.
In Massachusetts, the vaccines will be available at 30 CVS locations including pharmacies in Boston, Seekonk, Worcester, Randolph, Weymouth, and Braintree, among others.
CVS is expected to receive about 250,000 doses to administer to 11 different states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts, through this federal program. Of the 21 national and independent pharmacy networks that are part of this federal program, select locations of Walmart, Costco Wholesale, and Rite Aid stores in some states will also receive additional doses.
The news comes as Rhode Island struggles through the first phase of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Messaging has varied from municipality to municipality, and the state has yet to launch a vaccine portal. Seniors across the state last weekend desperately tried — and were often unable — to schedule an appointment at CVS and Walgreens pharmacies. Some were struggling with the technology and sign-up forms; others were confused about whether they were eligible.
“The demand is so great and the supply is so small,” Rybka noted. Rhode Island is currently in last place among New England states in terms of the number of vaccines administered.
Though residents can book appointments by calling a hot line (1-800-SHOPCVS), the digital form — while more technically challenging — is a better choice, Rybka said. Resident should not call individual CVS pharmacy locations.
“We know it’s been a pain for our seniors, but it has to be online,” said Rybka. “We learn as we go. It’s new for everyone.”