PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — In a move he’s been pushing for since serving as Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor, Gov. Dan McKee announced Tuesday a new initiative to start vaccinating educators against COVID-19.
K-12 teachers, school staff, and licensed child care workers will be able to make appointments at the 30 existing city- and town-run clinics starting as early as Friday, with the goal of getting at least one dose to each of them by the end of the month.
McKee’s office said school staff includes administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, clerical staff, custodial or maintenance staff, bus drivers and bus monitors.
Clinics will be open to employees of public, private, parochial and independent schools, and many will start vaccinating on Friday and Saturday, according to the governor’s office.
This week, municipal Emergency Management Agency directors will reach out to school leaders, including superintendents, charter and non-public school officials, and Department of Human Services licensees for child care centers to share information about how they can get vaccinated.
McKee’s office also said these individuals will be vaccinated in the community in which they work, not where they live.
Once the first round of doses is complete, clinics will start administering second doses in April.
“Getting our teachers, school staff, and child care workers vaccinated is one of the best things we can do right now to support students, families, schools, and our economy,” McKee said Tuesday.
“Here in Rhode Island, we’ve heard President Biden’s directive, and his goal is our goal,” he added. “Child care and in-person learning are essential services, and we should treat them that way. I want to thank the leadership of our cities and towns for stepping up to help us meet this moment and get these workers vaccinated quickly, efficiently, and safely.”
The city of Providence will be following a different approach for the vaccination campaign, given its high volume of school staff and child care workers. Through support from Lifespan and the Partnership for Rhode Island, a designated clinic will operate two days a week for Providence teachers, school employees and licensed child care workers.
The clinic has been operating for the past three weeks at 335R Prairie Ave. Beginning Wednesday, March 10, eligible individuals can call (401) 444-8139 to make an appointment.
“The collaboration is key for us to continue as we move forward,” R.I Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said.
Following Phase 1 of Rhode Island’s vaccine rollout, health officials had announced a plan to prioritize people by age, underlying health conditions and geography.
Adults ages 60 to 64, along with people ages 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, are next in line, with a target date of mid-March.
When asked what he would tell Rhode Islanders who are over 60 and have underlying health conditions, McKee said there will be enough doses to go around.
“Teachers are a priority because our students are one of our top priorities, if not our top priority in the state,” he said. “So, end of story there. That’s why people in the state of Rhode Island will fully understand what we’re doing here today.”
R.I. Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said Monday there are an estimated 70,000 adults between 60 and 64 in Rhode Island who aren’t already eligible for the vaccine, and 45,000 people with underlying conditions that will become eligible in mid-March. The Health Department assumes 70% of those people will want to get the vaccine when it becomes available.
“We feel confident that we are going to meet that target,” R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said Tuesday.
Dr. Alexander-Scott said Rhode Island will remain on schedule for those next groups due to a surplus of vaccine from the long-term care facility pharmacy partnership.
According to the governor’s office, 14,040 unadministered doses are being reintegrated into the state’s inventory, which are slated to immunize teachers.
Roughly 18,500 teachers, school staff, and child care workers need to be vaccinated, McKee’s office said, based on uptake trends and estimates on how many of these workers have already been vaccinated.
“This effort to get teachers, school staff, and child care workers vaccinated is in line with the approach Rhode Island has taken throughout this pandemic: prioritize learning for our kids, and do what it takes to create environments where the most learning possible can happen,” explained Tom McCarthy, executive director of the Health Department’s COVID-19 response.
A certain number of teachers would have already been eligible based on age, underlying conditions or geography, with some high-density communities vaccinating younger people than the rest of the state.
Additionally, as of last week, Rhode Island teachers under the age of 65 could make a vaccine appointment through participating CVS and Walgreens pharmacy locations.
Speaking to reporters Monday, McKee was pressed on more second-dose appointments estimated to be available than first-dose appointments next week, when roughly 115,000 people – not including teachers – would become newly eligible.
“The reason that we’re doing it is we’re building out the capacity to give shots all around the state to meet the supply that’s coming,” McKee told 12 News. “So, I think the important message to people is that there’s going to be more vaccine coming and we’re building out the capacity to meet that demand.”
McKee also said the state would not be slowing down the appointment process, despite the demand outweighing the supply right now.
“But that’s going to change very, very quickly and that’s what we’re getting ready for,” he said.