PROVIDENCE — Since vaccination distribution began in mid-December, state health officials have defended their “targeted” approach to Rhode Island’s rollout, which focused on inoculating health care workers and nursing home residents first.
Soon after, some municipalities quietly set up small clinics to vaccinate their most frail and elderly residents. Most clinic locations were not made public, and those who did have access shared appointment links with friends and family, many of whom were ineligible. The health department asked residents to stop sharing the registration links.
And most recently, the state finally unveiled its online portal and hotline for appointments at the state’s two new mass COVID-19 vaccination sites. But younger people who are not yet eligible were able to book appointments.
“We know what to do but we failed to do it,” said state Representative Raymond Hull, a Providence Democrat who chairs the House COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force.
State health officials said Thursday that they are still working out the kinks of the broader, more public aspect of the rollout as they ramp up vaccinations. But as the vaccine becomes more widely available, residents are still wondering when exactly they will become eligible, where to best register for a vaccine, and what happens once they get to a vaccine site.
Here are some questions and answers to help you navigate the system.
Who is eligible for a vaccine?
Rhode Islanders who are 65 and older started can book appointments this week. Health care workers, first responders, and those who work or live in congregate settings have been eligible and will continue to receive the vaccine.
I’m not eligible yet. How can I know when I will be?
The state will notify you if you sign up here. It’s the same website that you can use to schedule a free COVID-19 test.
I’m eligible for a vaccine now. Where can I register?
To book an appointment at one of the two mass vaccination clinics (Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence or the former Citizens Bank call center at 100 Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston), go to VaccinateRI.org or call the hotline: 844-930-1779.
Some CVS and Walgreens retail pharmacies also have doses. To book an appointment at a CVS, create an account and go to their vaccine portal or call 800-746-7287. For Walgreens, register for an account and then go to their vaccine portal or call your local store.
Some cities and towns in Rhode Island are holding separate clinics for their oldest populations. If you think you qualify, go to your town’s website or call your city hall. Here’s all that contact information in one place.
Lastly, Lifespan, which runs several hospitals and other medical facilities, has a limited supply of vaccine doses to administer to eligible patients. Schedule an appointment here.
Is any vaccination location accepting walk-ins?
No. You have to book an appointment in all instances.
I’m under the age of 65 and was still able to register for a vaccine appointment. Will I still be able to get vaccinated?
At this point, the registration portal will allow anyone of any age to sign up for a vaccine. But if you don’t qualify, state health officials said recently that your appointment will probably be canceled and you’ll then get notified. Also, health officials ask that you please wait your turn.
Is there parking at these mass vaccination clinics?
At the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, there are 2,300 free parking spaces set aside in the North Garage. There also are 23 handicapped spaces with golf carts available for those who have trouble walking.
At the Sockanosset site in Cranston, look for the “Vaccination Here” sign and the military-style vehicle at the entrance. Do not go to the side that says, “Alternative Hospital.” The vaccination website advises residents to get there no more than 15 minutes early or else you may not be able to find parking and will be asked to come back later.
At the mass vaccination sites, will I have to wait outside in the cold? What happens when I get inside?
At both locations, appointments are spaced out so that you should be indoors at all times.
Inside the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, there is a reception area where you’ll have to answer basic questions, such as if you have any COVID-19 symptoms. Then you’ll move to the second checkpoint, which is at the ticket counter, where staff will make sure you have an appointment. You’ll then sit at one of the 14 stations and receive your shot. You’ll go to an observation area, which is in a wide hallway by what is usually concession stands, and sit in one of the folding chairs for 15 to 30 minutes to make sure you don’t have any adverse effects. It’s during this time that students from Johnson & Wales University will help you book an appointment for your second shot.
At the Cranston site, the situation is nearly identical. And although the state says it is trying to keep wait times at a minimum, there could be delays. If you’re not able to stand for a period of time, the state recommends bringing a wheelchair or a walker with a seat, if you have one.
At all vaccine locations, you probably won’t be asked for a photo ID or an insurance card, because all of that would have been confirmed when you made your appointment (plus you don’t need either to get a shot). But bring them with you anyway, just in case.
Finally, you’ll get a vaccination confirmation card telling you which vaccine you received, the date, and location of your vaccination.
Will I have to wait outside in the cold at a regional clinic set up by my city or town?
All of the regional clinics have their own setups and procedures; you can ask about all that -- parking, entrances, waiting, etc. — when you make your appointment.
What if I don’t show up to get my vaccine? What will happen to that dose?
If there is any leftover vaccine, there is an emergency list of individuals who will be contacted to receive the dose that day. But health officials ask that you please cancel rather than not show up.
What happens if I register with multiple places to get a vaccine? Will I have to cancel the rest?
Schedule an appointment in just one place, health officials say, so that all eligible residents can get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
I’m 64 years old and have underlying health conditions. I heard Massachusetts residents with two or more comorbidities can start to get vaccinated. What about me?
Any Rhode Islander who is 16 to 64 years old with underlying health conditions will likely become eligible in mid-March, according to the state health department. This timeline assumes that 25 percent of adults with high-risk conditions were vaccinated in earlier groups.
Here’s a list of eligible medical conditions that will qualify you for this “early vaccination.” This list could eventually expand as supply to the state increases.
More guidance for those with underlying conditions is supposed to come out as this phase approaches.
I cannot leave my home. How and where do I get vaccinated?
The state has not yet released information about how residents who cannot leave their homes will get vaccinated, but said guidance will likely come soon. On Thursday night, the health department sent out this form to collect information about homebound seniors for planning purposes. The form does not register anyone for an appointment, or guarantee one. It can be filled out by a health care provider or family caregiver of someone who is homebound.
However, some providers, such as Care New England’s Integra Community Care Network, are already vaccinating their members who are housebound. If their patients are eligible and on the Integra program, Integra will reach out and schedule the vaccine visit. The VNA of Care New England has also vaccinated VNA patients 75 and older who unable to walk and/or get out of bed. According to Raina Smith, the health system’s spokeswoman, VNA has vaccinated 69 patients with their first dose of the vaccine and will start second vaccines next week.
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