If CDC clears J&J vaccine, RI will make its own decision on distribution, RIDOH medical director says

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the state prepares to loosen restrictions, R.I. Department of Health Medical Director Dr. James McDonald said now is the time to get vaccinated.

During the state’s weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday, Gov. Dan McKee said the state will begin to phase out business restrictions and other mandates by Memorial Day weekend as more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19.

McDonald said you should plan on scheduling your vaccine appointments soon to ensure you’re fully vaccinated by the time those restrictions are lifted.

“It’s all about risk,” he said during his weekly interview on 12 News Now at 4. (Watch the full interview in the video below.) “Being fully vaccinated lowers your risk.”

He said those who aren’t vaccinated are much more likely to contract COVID-19 and experience symptoms.

“The science hasn’t changed,” McDonald said. “What’s changed is the number of vaccinated people in this state … when there’s more people vaccinated there’s less people at risk.”

Beginning May 7, masks will go from being required to being recommended when outdoors, as long as there’s at least three feet of space between individuals.

When asked why the state decided not to lift the mandate altogether like Massachusetts and Connecticut, McDonald said they’re still very concerned about the spread of coronavirus variants.

“It’s about lower risk, not no risk,” he said. “I think if you’re going to be more than three feet away while you’re outside, you don’t necessarily need to wear a mask, but make your own personal choice.”

The indoor mask mandate is not being lifted anytime soon, so McDonald said now is the perfect time to enjoy the outdoors.

“Let’s get outside some more,” he said. “The ventilation is so good outside, especially in Rhode Island where we almost always have a really good breeze, you’re really pretty safe outside.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine remains on hold in Rhode Island after federal regulators recommended states halt the distribution of those shots as they investigate the risk of developing a rare, but severe blood clot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is scheduled to discuss the health risks of the single-dose vaccine on Friday.

McDonald said it’s too soon to tell whether they will make a decision on whether to continue distributing the vaccine nationwide. But if they say it’s good to go, the state will make its own decision on whether to administer the shots.

“Rhode Island is going to look at the data, look at the recommendations and make a customized recommendation for you, because we’re your doctor Rhode Island and we need to make sure what we have is good for you,” he said.

He said even if the CDC opts to continue the pause, the state’s supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is robust right now.

“We only have about 3,500 J&J doses right now, so we don’t have a lot of it anyway,” he said.

McKee has said he wants both high school and college students to have easy access to the vaccine, and this weekend, students at the University of Rhode Island (URI) will be prioritized for the vaccine at the closest state-run site to campus.

“We’re going to out to where people are and vaccinate them,” McKee said. “We’re willing to go out to high schools and vaccinate 16, 17 and 18-year-olds if they want us there. When the time is right, we’ll make that happen.”

A spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Education tells 12 News there is not firm timeline for bringing vaccines to schools just yet, but it is an option they’re exploring.

In the meantime, McDonald said the best thing anyone can do is be proactive and seek out the vaccine.

“Right now, we all have to have a sense of vaccine urgency,” he said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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