PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island will see a boost in the number of weekly vaccines shipped to the state beginning next week, which could result in a few hundred extra people getting inoculated per day.
R.I. Department of Health medical director Dr. James McDonald told 12 News on Wednesday the state is slated to start receiving up to 3,000 additional first doses of the Moderna vaccine each week. The extra doses, while seemingly small, represent a roughly 20% increase from the 14,000 first doses the state is currently receiving weekly.
“That’s a plus, and hopefully there will be more coming soon,” McDonald said.
In theory, the extra doses would mean the state could start vaccinating upward of 400 more people per day. But Rhode Island isn’t getting shots into arms quite as quickly as vaccines are coming into the state. As of Wednesday, the state and its vaccination partners had averaged about 1,672 shots per day during January.
As Target 12 reported Tuesday, Rhode Island started strong in terms of administering vaccines compared to other states, but it has slipped in recent weeks and as of Tuesday had fallen to No. 27 in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The reasons behind the slowed rollout are myriad, but stem mostly from inflexible programs, highly targeted approaches and turnover in state leadership. Health officials said this week they are making some changes to try to speed up the process – and the extra doses could help that happen.
McDonald also pointed out that President Joe Biden has suggested lately that more doses could be on the way.
“We’re always keeping our ears open,” McDonald said.
Rhode Island is currently limiting who can get the vaccine to about 230,000 Rhode Islanders, including health care workers, nursing home residents, first responders and some high-risk inmates, along with adults 75 years and older living at home.
Health officials are expected to announce Thursday who will be eligible for Phase 2 of the rollout plan, which could start between March and April depending on how quickly Phase 2 proceeds. The Health Department has indicated that it wants to prioritize based on age – oldest to youngest – along with underlying health conditions and geography, although incoming governor Dan McKee has said he wants to prioritize teachers.
The state’s rollout would speed up if more of the vaccine becomes available, and McDonald said he’s looking forward to hearing the results of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine trials expected next week. If successful, the conglomerate could deliver 100 million doses for use in the United States by the end of June, and unlike Moderna and Pfizer – which both require two doses – the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be administered as a single dose.
“I’m kind of excited about next week,” McDonald said. “If Johnson and Johnson has something exciting to tell us at this time next week, that might be a little more optimism for all of us, and we’re hearing some information through the grapevine that they have something to tell.”
Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO expressed optimism about the upcoming results of the clinic during a company earnings call with investors this week.
Separately, Rhode Island’s Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response chief Alysia Mihalakos said Tuesday that Rhode Island expects the state’s vaccine supply through Moderna and Pfizer to increase by June at the latest.
“The federal government did sign two agreements, one with Pfizer and one with Moderna, for additional capacity and both companies have assured us that those vaccines will become available to us in quarter two,” Mihalakos told 12 News on Tuesday. “So, if nothing else, by the end of quarter two we should be seeing significant amounts of additional vaccine from those two manufacturers.”
Kim Kalunian and Brian Yocono contributed to this story.