PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Uptake for third COVID-19 vaccine doses among some of the state’s eligible immunocompromised people has slowed in recent weeks, but that could change soon as roughly 130,000 people are now eligible for booster shots.
From Aug. 13 to Sep. 23, R.I. Department of Health data shows a little more than 8,900 people have received an “additional dose beyond the primary series.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not consider these additional doses to be “booster shots,” as they are intended to be provided only to individuals with weakened immune systems, rather than people whose immunity has declined over time.
According to an August estimate by the Health Department, approximately 35,000 people in Rhode Island were considered moderately to severely immunocompromised, meaning roughly 25% of that population had been vaccinated with an additional dose.
At the end of August, a Target 12 analysis of Health Department data showed an average of 270 people per day had received additional doses of the vaccines since the state started administering them on Aug. 13.
A new analysis shows an average of 217 people per day had taken advantage of receiving an additional dose as of last Thursday.
“Right now, if you’re moderately or severely immunocompromised, now is a great time to get your booster of the Pfizer vaccine, along with your flu shot. That’s a fine idea,” RIDOH Medical Director Dr. James McDonald told 12 News on Monday.
U.S. regulators said in August transplant recipients and others with severely weakened immune systems could get an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to better protect them as the delta variant continues to surge.
The pace could pick up in the coming weeks, however, as the state beginning Friday made booster doses of Pfizer’s vaccine available to a new group of Rhode Islanders. This included people 65 and older, as well as certain high-risk individuals, who were fully vaccinated with that brand of vaccine at least six months prior.
Specifically, the Health Department authorized booster shots beginning last Friday for an estimated 130,000 Rhode Islanders, including:
- People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings (regardless of age) should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series,
- People aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series,
- People aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks,
- People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks.
Examples of underlying medical conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, dementia or other neurological conditions, diabetes, heart disease, HIV, pregnancy, Sickle cell disease, substance use disorders.
“There’s no reason to rush for the groups that may,” McDonald said. “You’re going to want to walk into the booster, not run into the booster, and have a conversation with your doctor if you’re unsure about what the most logical step for you is.”
For the three days since boosters were made available to these new groups, the state reported 2,245 got an additional dose.
- Fri. Sept 24: 672
- Sat. Sept. 25: 1,150
- Sun. Sept. 26: 423
After an event in East Greenwich on Monday, Gov. Dan McKee told 12 News he and his wife both plan to receive their booster of Pfizer’s vaccine “within a reasonable period of time.”
McKee, 70, received his vaccine on camera back in March, prior to being sworn in as governor.
“We’re very prepared to do the boosters in the state, as well as the five to 11 [year-old] students, and we’ve built up our capacity and vaccinations to as much as 120,000 in any given week, so if we need to ratchet up we will, but at this point in time, we feel very comfortable that we’ll get the vaccines out,” McKee said.
“We encourage people to get the boosters, as well as we encouraging everybody to help us get over the 90%. But we are leaders in the country, in the nation, so we’ll be leaders in the boosters as well,” the governor added.
The additional doses come at the same time more than 129,000 eligible Rhode Islanders – aged 12 years and older – still have not received their first COVID-19 vaccines, even though they have been widely available for months.
The Health Department noted last Friday “demand is expected to be higher for the next six weeks than it has been for the past several months, given the state’s very high vaccination rates.” For this reason, scheduling an appointment is strongly recommended in an effort to reduce wait times and ensure enough vaccine is available at a given site.
Eligible individuals can make an appointment at C19vaccineRI.org. Those needing assistance making an appointment can call (844) 930-1779, (401) 222-8022, or 211.
As of last week’s data, so-called vaccine “breakthrough” cases, or those that involve fully vaccinated people who become infected with COVID-19 accounted for less than 4% of the state’s 158,832 total cases.
“One thing to keep in the back of your mind is, it’s not surprising to find cases of people who have been vaccinated, who got the disease,” McDonald said.
McDonald says the state’s aggressive testing, even of those who are vaccinated or with mild symptoms, has fortunately found the breakthrough cases to prevent further spread, though the majority of new cases involve those who have yet to get the shot.
“And we really want to help the unvaccinated people. We want to answer their questions as honestly and respectfully as we can,” he added.
On Monday, the Health Department also reported 726 new cases since Friday, with 25 added to previous daily totals. The state also reported a 2.3% positive case rate for the previous day.
Nine additional COVID-19 related deaths were reported, and the state noted 134 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. Of those hospitalized, 13 are in the ICU and ten are on ventilators as of Monday’s data.
More than 777,000 Rhode Islanders are now partially vaccinated, while more than 712,000 people are fully vaccinated.