PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In Gov. Gina Raimondo’s weekly briefing Thursday, she expressed optimism that a vaccine could be available for a limited group of high-risk Rhode Islanders before the end of the year, and more widely available at the beginning of 2021.
“That’s such welcome news, I hope you all breathe a sigh of relief. Hope is on the way,” Raimondo said.
Monday, Pfizer reported its COVID-19 vaccine candidate showed it was at least 90% effective in early clinical trials.
“That rate of effectiveness is much higher than anybody expected,” Raimondo said. “A lot of experts would have been thrilled with 60 or 70%. Over 90% is extraordinary.”
Pfizer and Massachusetts-based Moderna both announced they could submit data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as soon as this month for review.
In addition to the FDA’s review, the governor says all vaccine safety and efficacy data will also be independently reviewed by a special subcommittee in Rhode Island.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee was announced a few weeks ago and is comprised of epidemiologists, primary care providers, pharmacists, pediatricians, long-term care advocates, ethicists, nonprofit leaders, school leaders, faith leaders, and others.
“So when people ask me if I would get the vaccine and I say yes, it’s because I have confidence in the transparency of the process, in the process, and of the experts,” Raimondo said. “And I like it that we have our own team of Rhode Islanders. Rhode Island experts; our friends, family and neighbors looking out for us, who are looking at the data.”
The governor noted this subcommittee is also advising her about how to distribute the vaccine, which she said will be hard.
“If we thought distributing N95s was hard, this is much, harder. So I want you to know, we’re not sitting around waiting for the vaccine.” Raimondo said. “We are planning for the vaccine distribution so that we’re ready to hit the ground running the second we receive these vaccines.”
An interim draft of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 vaccination plan was made publicly available last month. The governor reiterated the vaccine would be rolled out in phases to priority populations, based on people’s level of risk.
She said Phase 1 is likely to include groups that are high risk: healthcare workers, people with two or more underlying health conditions, nursing home residents, and those with severely compromised immune systems.
Phase 2 would likely include teachers, school staff, childcare providers, and workers in other high-risk settings, plus “all older adults and others,” according to the governor.
“There will be a limited supply initially coming to us in waves, so it’s really important that we have priority, and we’re going to be prioritizing based upon risk,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo added, “it’s going to be a while” before young adults, children, and remaining lower-risk individuals got the vaccine in Phase 3.
“We are creating a plan, and I have complete confidence that when the vaccines are ready, Rhode Island will be ahead of the game,” Raimondo said.
However, the governor said while a vaccine on the way is good news, she says she has come to the conclusion the next few months of the pandemic will be the hardest yet.
“We thought March and April were bad, and they certainly were, and in some ways, we’re in better shape now,” Raimondo said. “The field hospitals are ready, we already have testing, we’re doing 20,000 tests a day.”
But Raimondo said in other ways, things are going to be “much, much worse.”
“People are tired. People aren’t following the rules. We’re all about to go indoors now. Flu season,” Raimondo said. “So, try to do whatever you need to do, in your life, with your family and your friends to ask yourself, what do you need to do to get through these next few months safely, between now and when we have a vaccine.”
The governor said she wanted Rhode Islanders to make an effort to make sure everyone wears a mask, not have informal gatherings and to take the pandemic more seriously to get through the next few months “with as little pain, suffering and loss of loved ones as possible.”
Next week, Gov. Raimondo said she will lay out more specific rules around Thanksgiving, which she noted will be “very strict.”
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