Lifespan CEO: Vaccine could go out in RI ‘within hours’ of FDA approval

Coronavirus
Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau_514482

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The head of Rhode Island’s largest hospital group said Wednesday he is ready to begin vaccinating health care workers almost immediately once the FDA gives approval to a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer.

Rhode Island is one of four states selected by Pfizer to help pilot distribution of the vaccine, which was developed in record time and is currently awaiting clearance. The United Kingdom authorized its use on Wednesday and the United States is expected to follow suit as soon as next week.

During a morning interview on CNBC, Lifespan Presdient and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau said his organization — which owns Rhode Island Hospital as well as Miriam, Newport and Bradley — has been working for the last month with Pfizer and the R.I. Department of Health to figure out the logistics of distribution.

“As soon as we get it in our hands we can literally get it distributed out to the folks who need it within hours,” Babineau told the cable network.

“We’re working with the Department of Health and the state of Rhode Island as we speak to go over the criteria of exactly who will get the vaccine first, who will get it second,” he said. “We haven’t finalized those yet. Obviously, high-risk populations and those on the front line of health care, health care workers, obviously will be some of the first to get it.”

Babineau spoke shortly before a newly created R.I. House of Representatives task force on the vaccine is scheduled to hold its first meeting Wednesday afternoon. The virtual hearing will include Dr. Michael Fine, the former head of the state Health Department, and Dr. Ashish Jha, the head of Brown University’s School of Public Health and a nationally renowned expert on the pandemic.

COVID-19 hospitalizations hit an all-time high in Rhode Island of 410 on Tuesday, according to the Department of Health, forcing Lifespan and rival hospital group Care New England to both open temporary field hospitals at the Convention Center and an old Citizens Bank building in Cranston, respectively.

“Unfortunately, Rhode Island is headed in the wrong direction,” Babineau said. “Our hospital beds are full at the moment with COVID patients.”

But “we’re not seeing a dramatic demand on ICU capacity — we have plenty of ICU capacity, we have plenty of ventilator capacity,” he said. “However, our regular med surge beds are filled. It’s one of the reasons that we chose to open a field hospital this week.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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