All Rhode Islanders 16+ to become eligible for vaccine Monday; free bus rides to appointments

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — All Rhode Islanders age 16 and older will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday despite a pause on the Johnson & Johnson shot, Gov. Dan McKee said Thursday.

At the governor’s weekly coronavirus briefing, McKee also said 16,000 vaccine appointments will be added to the state’s website VaccinateRI.org at 5 p.m. Friday.

“Monday will be the day many Rhode Islanders have been waiting for,” McKee said. “We’re on track with our goals. The J&J announcement did not deter that.”

Rhode Island has halted use of the Johnson & Johnson shot at the recommendation of federal authorities, which are investigating several reports of blood clots.

No such reports have been made in Rhode Island, where roughly 31,000 doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered to date.

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Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the R.I. Department of Health, emphasized that the odds of getting the rare blood clot are one in a million, though she said Rhode Islanders who have recently received the shot can monitor themselves for symptoms such as severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain and shortness of breath.

“We have come nowhere near administering a million Johnson & Johnson doses,” Alexander-Scott added.

She said one of the reasons for the pause is to educate medical providers on how to treat and report the extremely rare clots.

Logistically, the J&J pause will not slow down Rhode Island’s administration of shots, according to Tom McCarthy, the executive director of the state’s COVID-19 response team.

McCarthy said Rhode Island received 59,000 vaccine doses this week, only 2,000 of which were from Johnson & Johnson. The doses are being kept refrigerated during the pause, and he said state officials used Moderna and Pfizer doses to replace the appointments people already had scheduled for Johnson & Johnson.

The state is only slated to get 700 doses of J&J next week, McCarthy said, due to production challenges at the factory.

He also said 68,200 Rhode Islanders are projected to be vaccinated next week with the other two brands.

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While all Rhode Islanders 16 and older become eligible on Monday, McCarthy said not everyone will get an appointment the first week, since there are 258,000 Rhode Islanders between 16 and 39 still unvaccinated.

The eligibility opens at 9 a.m., with the next batch of appointments on VaccinateRI.org set to be released Tuesday morning. Vaccines are also available at pharmacies, health centers and municipal clinics.

He said there has been an uptick in people not showing up to vaccine appointments, which makes it difficult for the state to fill the slots quickly. He urged people to cancel their appointments in advance if they’ve managed to get a shot elsewhere, or can’t make it.

According to McCarthy, 70% of all Rhode Islanders are expected to have at least one dose of the vaccine by June 5.

“Monday is going to be a big day on that journey to 70%,” he said.

McKee said Thursday the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) will begin offering free fares on Monday to people going to and from vaccination appointments.

People with vaccine appointments can email CustomerService@RIPTA.com or call (401) 781-9400 to get the free fare. Masks are required on the bus.

“Transportation is a perfect example of a community-level factor that impacts health outcomes,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott.

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The Health Department reported 428 new coronavirus infections on Thursday and a 1.9% daily positivity rate, with more than 22,000 tests administered the previous day.

Another four Rhode Islanders have died after contracting COVID-19.

Currently, 138 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in the state, with 30 in the intensive care unit and 24 on ventilators.

Thursday’s data also shows almost 450,000 first doses of the vaccine have been administered to date, while roughly 317,000 Rhode Islanders are now considered fully vaccinated.

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said applications for “modest but meaningful” grants for small businesses will open Thursday afternoon.

The program provides $5,000 grants to businesses that lost more than $5,000 in revenue during the pandemic that has not been made up for by previous federal or state grants.

Pryor said the grants are for small businesses, including sole proprietors and seasonal businesses.

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