PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s frontline health care workers are set to receive the country’s first federally approved COVID-19 vaccine.
Monday morning, the Rhode Island COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee‘s vote was the final hurdle before the vaccine could be administered in the state.
The subcommittee overwhelmingly recommended that Rhode Island hospitals begin vaccinating high-risk staff aged 16 and older, specifically those who do not have a history of anaphylactic reaction to components of the Pfizer vaccine.
The subcommittee said pregnant and breastfeeding women in high-risk groups should be offered the vaccine and may choose to be vaccinated, and a discussion with their health care providers can help make an informed decision.
“Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee was watching the process every step of the way,” Larry Warner, subcommittee member and Director of Grants and Strategic Initiatives for United Way, said in a statement. “Every Rhode Islander should know that local experts and community leaders reviewed all available information about the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine, in addition to the thorough review at the national level.”
Health care staff are in Phase 1A of the state’s distribution plan, which aims to have the vaccine available to all Rhode Islanders by June.
There are some considerations for which frontline health workers can get the vaccine.
The group said pregnant and breastfeeding women should be offered the shots, but it would be up to the woman to have a conversation with her healthcare provider, and do a risk assessment.
The subcommittee also said those who previously had COVID-19 infections should still be vaccinated, but if they received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma for COVID-19, they should wait 90 days. Those who received other vaccines, like for influenza, should wait 14 days.
The subcommittee said it is safe for some with a history of allergies or severe allergic reactions to get the shot, and they will be monitored for at least 30 minutes, compared to the standard 15 minutes.
Current guidance says those who are allergic to components of Pfizer’s vaccine, including polyethylene glycol, is the one group of people who should not be vaccinated.
“In the coming weeks and months, as vaccine becomes more available, getting vaccinated will be one of the most powerful things you can do to keep yourself and the people you love safe from COVID-19,” Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said in a statement. “We are going to work to ensure that every person in every community in Rhode Island has access to the vaccine, especially those communities hardest hit by this virus.”
Before Rhode Island’s subcommittee could vote, Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate was scrutinized by two independent advisory groups, one to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and another to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC).
Last week, both of those groups overwhelmingly decided the benefits of the vaccine outweighed its potential risks and made subsequent recommendations.
Friday night, the FDA determined Pfizer’s vaccine was safe and effective and said it would grant an Emergency Use Authorization, setting in motion a historic mass vaccination effort in the United States.
Pfizer is planning to ship 2.9 million doses across the country this week, and the vaccine is a two-dose regimen.
On Monday, Rhode Island’s subcommittee said the first shipments would go to Rhode Island Hospital (including Hasbro Children’s Hospital) and Newport Hospital, followed by Kent Hospital, Women & Infants Hospital and The Miriam Hospital. The subcommittee said the remainder of the initial vaccine supply would be in all of the state’s hospitals by Thursday.
According to the R.I. Department of Health, approximately 1,000 first doses are going to each facility.
Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest health care system, said it received approximately 3,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine as part of the state’s Phase 1 distribution plan early Monday morning.
“Lifespan is grateful for this allocation of the first coronavirus vaccine to help protect high-risk health care workers who are needed to treat our patients,” President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau said. “We are ready to quickly distribute the vaccine and after long months of battling this pandemic, we have powerful reasons for optimism that the end is in sight.”
Lifespan says it is preparing to “rapidly administer the vaccine to its health care workers” later in the day Monday. The hospital group says it will be starting with those at highest risk, “including providers and staff who have direct contact with COVID+ patients or COVID+ infectious fluids or materials.”
Lifespan says its goal is to vaccinate all employees over the next several months.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee said Rhode Island would receive roughly 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week.
Next week, 10,725 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are expected. The subcommittee noted that 9,750 have to be allocated to CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to activate a partnership with long-term care facilities. Nursing homes are now expected to be able to begin vaccinating on Dec. 28, a few days later than the subcommittee previously anticipated.
Potentially, the second week’s shipment of Pfizer vaccines will also come with roughly 19,000 first doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which the FDA is reviewing later this week.
Second doses will start arriving in Rhode Island in roughly three weeks, according to health officials.
As hospital admissions and cases rise, the subcommittee will also need to figure out a staffing plan for those who can administer the shots. In last week’s meeting, several members mentioned how the ongoing health care staffing shortage may present an issue in administering the vaccines.
“If there are people — retired RN’s, things like that — where we could open up and get more vaccinators, or just increasing the number of available vaccinators, [those] are always appreciated,” Maria Messick, policy advisor to Gov. Raimondo’s office, said last week.
In neighboring Massachusetts, Southcoast Hospitals Group is preparing to be among the first to receive and administer the Pfizer vaccine. Nearly 2,000 doses are scheduled to arrive on Monday.
Nationally, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that the first vaccine has been administered in the United States.
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