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CORONAVIRUS

Providence, Pawtucket expands vaccine eligibility to younger residents

The COVID-19 hospitalization rate for young people in certain hard-hit ZIP codes is higher than the rate in the rest of Rhode Island for people over 60 years old, the mayor of Providence explained

Pharmacy student Kayla Sepe helps to vaccinate almost 700 people throughout the day at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
Pharmacy student Kayla Sepe helps to vaccinate almost 700 people throughout the day at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

PROVIDENCE — The City of Providence is expanding vaccine eligibility to residents over the age of 18 in some of the neighborhoods that have been hardest-hit by COVID-19.

These neighborhoods comprise the ZIP codes 02904, 02905, 02907, 02908, and 02909.

Some of these ZIP codes fall into other cities and towns, such as Cranston and North Providence. However, Ben Smith, a city spokesman, told the Globe that only Providence residents will be able to register for an appointment and receive a vaccine.

Residents in these neighborhoods are eligible for vaccination clinics managed by the Providence Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and community partners, but not state-run mass vaccination clinics.

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Appointments are expected to be posted on the city’s vaccination portal on Monday after 11 a.m., according to city spokesman Ben Smith. If residents cannot register online, they can call the Mayor’s Center for City Services by dialing 3-1-1 or 401-421-2489. Representatives are available to help fill out residents’ registration forms in Spanish and English.

All Providence residents over the age of 60 still have access to PEMA and state clinics. Appointments are available on a first-come-first-served basis. All COVID-19 vaccines are available to residents at no cost and health insurance is not required.

Vaccines are available to all eligible residents, no matter their immigration statuses.

The COVID-19 hospitalization rate for young people in certain hard-hit ZIP codes is higher than the rate in the rest of Rhode Island for people over 60 years old, the mayor of Providence explained. CITY OF PROVIDENCE / HANDOUT
The COVID-19 hospitalization rate for young people in certain hard-hit ZIP codes is higher than the rate in the rest of Rhode Island for people over 60 years old, the mayor of Providence explained. CITY OF PROVIDENCE / HANDOUTCITY OF PROVIDENCE

Mayor Jorge O. Elorza said Monday morning that because vaccinations are effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, it’s important to him to focus on vaccination efforts in settings where the risks are most severe.

“In the seven hardest-hit zip codes throughout the state, the COVID-19 hospitalization rate for people as young as 25 is higher than the hospitalization rate in the rest of Rhode Island for people over 60 years old,” said Elorza. “Today’s science and data-driven approach brings us yet another step closer to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in communities hardest hit by the virus.”

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Elorza said that while residents in the ZIP code 02906 are not yet eligible for a vaccine if they don’t meet state-wide criteria, it’s because the state has only authorized expansion of Tier 1 high-density communities, which does not include this neighborhood.

Elorza said during a Monday morning press conference that the state has not indicated a specific increase in vaccine allocations to the city, but that allocations would gradually increase in the coming weeks. He said that some residents likely won’t be able to book an appointment their first try this week, but encouraged them to keep trying.

‘We can see the finish line,” said Elorza. “But at the same time, we’re not out of the woods yet.”

The news comes as Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien announced Monday that all age restrictions for vaccination clinics will be removed, allowing all residents who are able to receive a vaccine to become eligible in clinics within the city.

Those over the age of 18 will be able to receive the Moderna or one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Residents over the age of 16 will be able to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

“Our goal is to get as many shots in as many arms as quickly as possible,” said Governor Dan McKee Monday. “Achieving this goal is going to take a whole-of-government, full state response and close partnership with our local communities.”

Pawtucket is expecting additional appointments to open in the coming weeks and will continue encouraging residents to stay turned to the city’s vaccine website for available dates and times. Also on the website, residents can complete an online form to get more information on upcoming COVID-19 vaccination clinics. It will serve as a contact list for residents to submit their information and be contacted by the city’s BEAT COVID-19 team when an upcoming clinic they are available for is announced by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

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Residents will be required to provide information that includes their name, date of birth, street address, telephone number, and email in order to be placed on the contact list. But the form does not serve as a pre-registration for a clinic and residents will still have to consult the Pawtucket’s website or call the BEAT COVID-19 hotline 855-843-7620.

The expanded eligibility is part of the state’s High-Density Community Initiative through the health department.

“Equity is a major focus for us in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. This means distributing vaccine in a way that is responsive to the reality that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on certain communities, such as Pawtucket,” said state health department director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “Accelerating vaccine distribution there and in other harder-hit ZIP codes as part of the State’s targeted High Density Community vaccination strategy is key to preventing as many hospitalizations and fatalities as possible, and to ending the pandemic throughout Rhode Island.”

The state health department said the state-run sites are using statewide eligibility criteria, which include residents over 60 and those over the age of 16 with specific underlying medical conditions.

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“We are exploring ways that we can use the state-run sites to increase vaccination rates in communities that have been harder hit, but right now the eligibility criteria are not changing for the State-run sites,” Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the state health department, told the Globe Monday.

He said the changes on the municipal level that cities have announced, such as in Providence and Pawtucket, are only for city-specific sites.

When asked if residents who are eligible within the city’s clinics attempt to register with the state, Wendelken said, “People who register who are not eligible run the risk of having their appointments canceled.”


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