RI health officials working to define Phase 2 population for vaccine distribution

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Almost a month after the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Rhode Island, the state’s vaccine subcommittee is holding its first meeting of the new year.

On Friday morning, Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee met to provide an update on Phase 1, discussing how many have been given first and second doses to date, which subgroups have been vaccinated already, which subgroups are currently being vaccinated and who will be vaccinated next.

Subcommittee leaders noted 42 providers are currently administering doses to Phase 1 populations.

New data from the R.I. Department of Health on Friday showed 29,743 had received their first dose, with just 1,798 getting fully vaccinated with two doses. With approximately 200,000 people in Phase 1 alone, that means just under 15% of those in subgroups in Phase 1 have been given their first dose as of Friday’s data.

A presentation in Friday morning’s meeting noted Phase 1.2 groups now starting to get doses administered include COVID specimen collectors, pharmacists and those at other long-term care facilities including group homes, assisted living and elderly housing with residential services.

“So, we are currently vaccinating across 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 and not even every population that’s in the list for those three yet,” Alysia Mihalakos, the head of the Health Department’s Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said.

Mihalakos said Phase 1.4 and Phase 1.5 vaccinations have not started yet, adding the state would need to initiate vaccination with all of the groups in 1.4 before opening up the process to the Phase 1.5 population, which includes individuals over the age of 75.

In Phase 1.4, dentists, primary care and other outpatient providers are listed, plus dialysis center staff and blood, organ and tissue donation staff. Morticians, funeral home workers and other death care professionals are also included.

Friday morning’s meeting also focused on starting to define priority populations in Phase 2.

Jonathan Brice, superintendent for Bristol-Warren Regional School District, argued on behalf of school teachers, staff and students to be first in Phase 2.

“I think the question for the entire state is going to be one in which, are we able to keep schools open given the rate of transmission? And, even with the changing of the guidance, about how long you have to stay out?” Brice said. “From a staffing perspective, it’s very difficult.”

The state’s timeline does not show Phase 2 beginning until at least late March.

The subcommittee discussed how it may consider age, high-risk conditions, occupation and geography when more clearly defining the sub-groups in the next phase.

In a virtual briefing Tuesday, health officials said while the state is in a good place, it is not receiving enough doses of the vaccine from the federal government yet to stick to its timeline.

The health department said the state had received about 46,000 doses so far, but that it was difficult to receive and redistribute to partners in the same week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday put out a message about Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, which both require two doses. The agency said it was monitoring discussions about possibly splitting doses to vaccinate more people, but noted there is not yet data to support that such an approach is safe.

In an interview on 12 News on Thursday, the medical director of the R.I. Department of Health, Dr. James McDonald, said the state will follow the data.

“If we’re going to give you a vaccine, we’re going to make sure it’s safe and it’s effective,” McDonald said. “So, when we see the data in Rhode Island that it’s safe and effective, we’ll have that conversation with you and you won’t be surprised.”

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