Dentists frustrated with RI vaccine rollout after getting short notice of availability

12 on 12: Vaccine 101

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Dental Association is expressing disappointment with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution after they say multiple dentist offices received last-minute calls that their staff was eligible to get immunized.

The calls came over the past two weekends and the message was given to the offices’ answering service, the group said, but the offices received the notice a few hours before they were told to arrive at the vaccine clinic.

“[They were given] about an hour or two and you know, in many cases, it may have been a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon,” R.I. Dental Association President-elect John Kiang said.

R.I. Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said the short notice was because they don’t want to waste any doses. Each day, they open vials for scheduled patients. If there are any left over, health officials call the next people in line.

“Outpatient health care providers such as dentists are one of the next groups to get vaccinated, so that was why a few dentists were contacted by clinic organizers in this instance,” Wendelken explained. “The cities and towns running the clinics are the entities that manage the actual outreach to people as clinics are closing.”

The R.I. Dental Association believes dentistry should have been among the top groups to get vaccinated. Now, missing the opportunity to get the shots because of the lack of notice is causing frustration.

“On a larger scale, I think it’s pretty much sinful to not have a good organization and plan in place to distribute those vaccines,” Kiang added.

Wendelken said there is little to no COVID-19 transmission among the dental community. But Kiang believes because they’ve been able to limit the spread of the virus, that’s being used against them.

“We’ve done such a good job, it almost seems as if we are being somewhat penalized because the dental community is doing quite well. There is no urgency in getting them vaccinated,” Kiang said.

On a statewide scale, dentists are ahead of about one million people in line to get the vaccine in Rhode Island.

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