PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Governor Dan McKee toured two new regional vaccination sites on Wednesday, where he said opening additional sites is critical to helping make sure that everyone in Rhode Island who wants a coronavirus shot, but who can’t make it to a mass vaccination site, has access to one.
With the new locations in Westerly and East Providence, 97 percent of all Rhode Islanders now have a vaccination site within a 15-minute drive. The East Providence site opened in collaboration with Barrington, Warren, Bristol, Pawtucket and Tiverton.
The state is able to administer 160,000 shots a week, but the governor said he expects he state to soon expand to 200,000 per week.
McKee said during the weekly coronavirus press conference Thursday that he expects 70 percent of Rhode Islanders over 16 years old to have “at least” the first shot of the vaccine, and ideally would like 70 percent of all residents to be fully vaccinated by mid-June.
There will be 20,000 new appointments posted on the state’s vaccinateri.org portal on Friday. Appointments can also be booked by calling the hotline at 844-930-1779. The appointments will be for mass vaccination sites and some independent pharmacies.
These appointments will be made available to people ahead of Rhode Islanders who are as young as 40 years old will be made eligible for a vaccine on April 12, which was previously announced.
All Rhode Islanders over 16 are expected to be made eligible for the vaccine on April 19.
In a sign that the 70 percent threshold may be difficult to reach, a Rhode Island lawmaker on Tuesday introduced legislation that would bar discrimination against people who choose not to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Though Democratic state Representative Thomas Noret says the bill is not based on any anti-vaccination sentiment, the bill would prohibit McKee from creating a vaccine mandate. It also aims to protect employees from being fired by their employer, from being refused a hotel room, and from being refused a loan from a financial institution based on vaccination status.
The Rhode Island Department of Health sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee in response to the bill, pointing out that it would jeopardize existing vaccination requirements for non-coronavirus diseases.
“Every piece that we’re putting in place is critical,” McKee said Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. “Everywhere where we can get more and more people identified that they’re ready to get the shot, we’re going to be in a better spot when the supply starts meeting our demand.”
The goal is to make it safe enough to have parades and fireworks on July Fourth and for the summer folk and jazz festivals in Newport.
“We'll get back to that kind of summer that we all want to enjoy," he said.
Almost 268,000 people in Rhode Island — or a little more than 25 percent of the state’s population — have already been fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health statistics released Wednesday.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.