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CORONAVIRUS

R.I.’s vaccine approach has reduced hospitalizations, but missed populations of color

Only 7 percent of Rhode Islanders who received a COVID-19 vaccine were Latino, and just 3 percent were Black

Close to 700 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Feb. 13 at Central Falls High School.
Close to 700 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Feb. 13 at Central Falls High School.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

PROVIDENCE — As in other states, people of color in Rhode Island have been contracting and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than white residents throughout the pandemic. But in the first phase of Rhode Island’s vaccine rollout, data show that people of color were vaccinated at much lower rates than white residents.

Of the nearly 203,700 vaccine doses administered in the state, almost 64 percent have gone to white residents, while just 7 percent have gone to Latino residents, and 3 percent to Black residents.

Data on race and ethnicity were not collected for almost 20 percent of the total doses administered.

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Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the state’s health department, said during a Tuesday morning vaccine subcommittee meeting that more work needs to be done during the second phase of the vaccine rollout, in terms of outreach to communities of color and holding providers accountable for keeping track of data.

Nationally, the subcommittee said, more than half of all workers in health care occupations are white, and nearly 80 percent of nursing home residents are non-Hispanic. Both of these populations were prioritized in the state’s first phase of the vaccine rollout, which prioritized health care workers, residents and staff of long-term-care settings, first responders, and residents older than 75. The goal, according to Alexander-Scott, was to reduce new hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19; daily new hospital admissions have declined from January to February by 71 percent, on average.

In the second phase of the rollout, the subcommittee members said they hope to reach more-diverse communities.

Early efforts to vaccinate residents in high-density areas such as Central Falls, one of the hot spots of the pandemic, were successful because the state brought vaccines directly into people’s homes. The city administered doses to the Central Falls Housing Authority, which runs the 148-apartment building Forand Manor and the 125-apartment building Wilfrid Manor. The state also worked to increase engagement, recruit community members as volunteers, and host additional clinics for a broader population within the Latino-majority city. Central Falls now has the highest vaccination rate in the state, with 32 percent of its population at least partially vaccinated, according to data provided by the state health department.

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The vaccine subcommittee said Tuesday that it’s hoping to replicate its Central Falls strategy in Pawtucket and Providence, which were also hit hard by the pandemic. About 12 percent of the population in Pawtucket has started the vaccination process, compared to 10 percent of the population in Providence — two of the lowest percentages in the state.

The second phase of the state’s vaccine campaign is all about speed, said Alexander-Scott, who said she hopes the opening of mass vaccination sites in Providence and Cranston will make the process of finding a dose easier.

Some subcommittee members said the digital divide may be affecting the vaccination rollout, especially in underserved communities. And the harsh winter weather is also causing complications: Approximately 12,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine did not arrive in Rhode Island as scheduled on Monday, and three clinics — at the Cranston Senior Center, the Swift Community Center in East Greenwich, and the West Warwick Civic Center — were forced to reschedule appointments, the state Department of Health said in a statement.

People who had appointments Tuesday will be contacted directly by clinic organizers, and appointments scheduled for Wednesday may also have to be postponed, the health department said.

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The health department also said it would release new vaccination appointments for state-run mass vaccination sites at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence and the former Citizens Bank headquarters in Cranston on Tuesday and Friday mornings.

The Rev. Chris Abhulime, who is a member of the state’s vaccine subcommittee, said he had tried to virtually help someone sign up for a vaccine using the state’s web portal, but was unsuccessful.

“Is there any way that we can build some simplicity in the process?” asked Abhulime.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.