RI COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee discusses ‘booster surge planning’

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health has a plan in place to begin administering COVID-19 booster shots to tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders as soon as the CDC issues recommendations for who can get a third dose and when.

Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee met Thursday morning, less than one day after the U.S. Food Drug and Administration (FDA) expanded access to booster shots of Pfizer’s vaccine.

The subcommittee voted in favor of proceeding with its plan once the CDC releases its final guidance, which could come by the end of this week.

“We want to get these out as quickly as possible, so if we have guidance this week, the goal would be to begin administering those vaccinations this weekend,” said Thomas McCarthy, executive director of the state’s COVID-19 response team.

The CDC’s recommendations are expected to be similar to those released by the FDA, which authorized boosters for people ages 65 and older, younger people with underlying health conditions, and those in jobs that put them at high risk for contracting COVID-19.

Data from the Health Department shows that would cover an estimated 130,000 Rhode Islanders. The extra dose would be given six months after members of those groups received their second shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

The state expects pharmacies will provide the majority of support in administering booster shots, and it’s possible they’ll be engaged through a federal partnership with the CDC or local partnership with skilled nursing facilities.

Much like the ongoing vaccine distribution strategy, the state is planning a targeted approach with boosters to reach people who are homebound and in congregate care settings, correctional facilities, and communities of color, according to McCarthy.

“Put those vaccines in people’s paths, and that’s what’s allowed us to fortunately be in a relatively good position for the delta variant,” he explained. “We’re always preparing for what could potentially come next, and continuing to get as many people vaccinated as possible is critical.”

McCarthy also said staffing is being ramped up at the state’s call center in anticipation of more people seeking help with scheduling vaccine appointments.

The FDA is still reviewing data regarding boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The subcommittee also discussed the vaccine requirement for health care workers. As of Sept. 13, the Health Department says about 87% of these workers are vaccinated at facilities that reported data.

State-licensed facilities have until Oct. 1 to comply with the mandate. Those that don’t meet the standards must come up with a corrective action plan outlining how to become compliant within 30 days.

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