PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The federal government is beginning to make good on the Biden administration’s promises of sending more doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the states.
The R.I. Department of Health confirmed Wednesday that Rhode Island will receive 22,500 first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines next week, which is about 6,000 more than the roughly 16,000 doses that had been arriving previously. That number is expected to stay steady for three weeks.
“We just found out about this yesterday,” Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken told 12 News. “Part of this is an actual increase in Pfizer vaccine, and part of it is that Pfizer made a change that allows six doses to be drawn from vials that we were previously getting five doses from.”
Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott called it “a little bump” that is still “very good news.” She added, “With every step we take, we want to push towards getting more and more vaccine supply, because we are poised to get more and more volume of vaccine out into the community.”
News of the expanded vaccine supply comes the same day Rhode Island opened public registration for vaccination appointments to all residents ages 75 and older through a website — VacinateRI.org — and a hotline (844-930-1779).
The appointments are for the state’s first two mass-vaccination facilities, slated to open Thursday, and Rhode Island is expected to expand eligibility to Rhode Islanders ages 65 to 74 beginning next week.
The news also comes amid rising public frustration with the pace of Rhode Island’s vaccine rollout, with the state ranked last in the country for the share of the population that had gotten a shot as of Tuesday. State officials have defended their initially restrictive strategy as targeted at improving health outcomes, while acknowledging it needs to move faster.
Data released Wednesday by the Health Department shows Rhode Island has received 246,175 vaccine doses from the CDC so far but only administered 165,488 shots, or two-thirds of the total, leaving about 80,000 doses waiting to be given out.
The state on Wednesday also reported an unusual jump of roughly 7,000 in doses administered after health officials said they completed a data audit that revealed some clinics hadn’t been reporting complete numbers to the Health Department.
On Tuesday, Alexander-Scott told 12 News that work has been happening behind the scenes in recent weeks to speed up vaccinations.
“Rhode Islanders will see that the access to vaccines will improve,” she said. “We will do everything — and have been — and will continue to do everything we can to get it out to members of the public, particularly now that we are finishing that more targeted approach.”
According to the Health Department, Rhode Island has been told to expect 11,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 10,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine for the week starting Feb. 21.
Those doses will be split between eight vaccinators, with 10,530 doses going to the two mass-vaccination sites for elderly and high-risk individuals, as well as outpatient providers; 7,950 doses going to municipal clinics for individuals 75 and older, then 65 and older; and smaller amounts going to CVS and Walgreens locations, community health centers, and vaccination clinics in high-density communities.
Massachusetts officials also announced an increase in vaccine supply on Wednesday. At a news conference, Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the Bay State has “finally received a very modest increase of our supply by 29,000 first doses, so for next week we will have 139,000 first doses.”
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
Eli Sherman, Kim Kalunian, Tim White, Steph Machado and Bay Gammans contributed to this report.