PROVIDENCE — Early on in Rhode Island’s vaccine roll-out, residents were frustrated by glitchy websites, and demand for the COVID-19 vaccine far outpaced the state’s supply of doses. When the state announced that residents age 16 and older would become eligible for the vaccine on Monday, many residents worried that everyone in the state would be competing with one another for a limited number of open slots.
But when Monday came, and nearly 258,000 individuals became eligible in the state all at once, thousands of shots were still available at mass vaccination sites. Another 9,000 were expected to be posted Tuesday on the state’s booking portal. Had supply finally outpaced demand — or are young people simply uninterested in getting vaccinated?
”Part of it is hesitancy and some is just lack of any urgency. We’re seeing that even in our [young] higher-risk patients,” said Dr. Rishi R. Lulla, director of the pediatric hematology and oncology division at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Yet, still, those patients aren’t rushing to get the shot.
Unlike when the senior population and those with underlying health conditions became eligible in Rhode Island, Lulla said the 16- to 30-year-old population seem to think they do not need to be vaccinated immediately, and will likely wait to book an appointment in a few weeks. On local college campuses, he said he’s heard some students say they don’t need to get vaccinated because of they get tested for COVID-19 so frequently, sometimes multiple times per week.
In other cases, Lulla said, some people might be wondering what the long-term side effects are.
“But we also don’t know anything about the long-term side effects of having a COVID-19 infection,” countered Lulla, who also teaches pediatrics at Brown University.
Health experts say that at least 70 percent of the state’s population would have to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Data from the state health department shows more than 43 percent of the state’s total population has received at least one dose. The national average is 38.4 percent.
“We want to make sure that as many people as possible sign up for the vaccine, including those who are as young as 16,” said Lulla.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the state health department, said the state would continue to monitor the uptake, but pointed out that some younger adults have been eligible to register in many hard-hit ZIP codes throughout the state for weeks, such as parts of Providence and Cranston, and all of Central Falls and Pawtucket.
And while the state usually only posts new appointments on Tuesdays and Fridays, he said the state wanted to have ample appointments for the first day it expanded to people age 16 to 39. Approximately 15,000 appointments were made available Monday morning and, by midday, about 7,000 slots had been filled by people who were newly eligible.
“We’re working to get our vaccination rates as high as possible in every community throughout Rhode Island, especially those communities that have been harder hit by COVID-19, such as our communities of color,” Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state’s health director, said Monday. “I have been vaccinated, and I’m encouraging my family and friends to do the same. COVID-19 vaccine is one of the most effective tools you have to protect yourself and the people you love from COVID-19.”
For some parents, who have been waiting for their older teenagers to become eligible for the vaccine, Monday was their first sign of hope. Janet Lamb, a Portsmouth mother, went online early Monday morning and was able to book an appointment for her 16-year old daughter this week.
“It will be nice for her to be able socialize more with friends and family who are vaccinated,” said Lamb, who said her daughter was thrilled that she will receive her first dose of the Pfizer shot this week. “As a mom you always worry, so it was important to me to protect her as much as possible from this virus.”
She added, “I trust the science.”