Q&A: RI health officials outline how, where eligible residents can get COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — How and where can eligible Rhode Islanders get vaccinated against COVID-19?

That was among a series of questions answered by two of the state’s top health officials during a virtual briefing Tuesday.

R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and Medical Director Dr. James McDonald joined Gov. Gina Raimondo and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee to answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the state’s vaccine rollout.

“We still have a limited number of vaccine,” Raimondo said. “We’re doing our best to get them out the door and get shots into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”

While both the outgoing and incoming governors asked Alexander-Scott and McDonald questions based on what they’ve been hearing from Rhode Islanders, none of the hundreds of comments from those who tuned in appeared to be directly addressed.

Watch the full virtual briefing in the video below.

This was a rare appearance for Raimondo, who’s mostly kept herself out of the public eye after being nominated to serve as commerce secretary within the Biden administration.

Raimondo said she and McKee have been working in tandem to ensure a smooth transition.

“We’re hitting the ground running,” McKee said. “We are preparing for a transition and we want the people of Rhode Island to know that it will be a seamless transition.”

Where can I get vaccinated and how can I sign up?

Alexander-Scott said there will eventually be three types of vaccination sites in Rhode Island, adding that signing up for a vaccine will be similar to getting tested.

“There are currently many different ways to get a COVID test,” Alexander-Scott said.

She said right now, eligible Rhode Islanders can get vaccinated at a limited number of CVS and Walgreens locations statewide.

“We intend to expand that as we go, bringing in more pharmacies as we go forward,” she explained. “We want to make sure the vaccine is accessible to you in that way.”

Eligible residents interested in receiving their vaccine at either pharmacy are encouraged to schedule an appointment online, or have someone do so for them.

Schedule a vaccine appointment at CVS » | Schedule a vaccine appointment at Walgreens »

Alexander-Scott said shots are also being administered at local and regional clinics, which are being operated by individual municipalities.

Starting next week, Alexander-Scott said the state will be distributing 7,000 doses of the vaccine weekly to cities and towns based on population.

Rhode Islanders will eventually also have the option to get vaccinated through a state-run clinic as well. Alexander-Scott said the state plans to open its first mass vaccination site at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence later this month.

“These will be larger sites in central locations,” she said. “Our goal at those sites will be volume.”

Residents ages 75 and older will be able to sign up for the state-run clinics by mid-February, Alexander-Scott said, though those locations are not expected to open until there are plenty of vaccines to administer. She anticipates there will eventually be five to ten mass vaccination sites statewide.

“We want to make sure when we open them we have enough vaccine to push people through effectively,” she added.

Alexander-Scott said they’re currently developing an online portal and hotline, both of which will allow eligible Rhode Islanders to schedule a vaccine appointment at a state-run clinic ahead of time.

Can the vaccine cause infertility in women?

Some Rhode Islanders are questioning the safety of the vaccine. McDonald said he’s heard several myths regarding the vaccine that “simply aren’t true,” including one that claims the shot can affect a woman’s ability to have a baby.

“What an awful, hideous lie that has been told to some people though. The vaccine will not affect your ability to have a baby,” McDonald said, adding that the majority of health care workers who have not received the vaccine are in their child-bearing years. “That’s the myth that worries me the most and I want to reassure everyone that it’s a safe and effective vaccine.”

When asked whether the vaccine was “worth it,” McDonald said absolutely. He said the proof is in the state’s data, which shows a steady decline in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Do we still need to take precautions after getting vaccinated?

Alexander-Scott said just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you should stop protecting yourself and others.

She said until the majority of the state’s population is vaccinated, everyone must continue to wear their face masks, practice social distancing and get tested regularly.

“We need as many people vaccinated as possible,” she said.

Alexander-Scott said right now, it’s clear that the coronavirus vaccines available are extremely effective when it comes to protecting people from becoming seriously ill.

“It’s keeping people out of the hospital, and keeping people alive,” she explained.

Even though it prevents those who are vaccinated from falling seriously ill, Alexander-Scott said it’s important to remember that a vaccinated person can still transmit the virus to someone who isn’t.

“The key is understanding that the vaccine may not necessarily stop someone from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19,” Alexander-Scott said. “That’s why it’s important to continue to do what’s needed to protect your household.”

“Do all the steps that we know work,” she continued.

Do you need to get your COVID vaccine if you’ve received your flu shot?

McDonald said both vaccines protect against different viruses, meaning in order to be protected from both, you need to get vaccinated for both.

“If you’ve gotten the flu vaccine, that’s great, but you still need to get the COVID vaccine,” he said.

He encouraged those who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine to not “wait idly.”

McDonald said it’s important to continue protecting yourself from the virus, and suggested upgrading the quality of your face masks.

Alexander-Scott said by upgrading your face mask, you are also protecting yourself from bringing home one of the coronavirus variants, which are much more contagious than the original strain.

Right now, she said it’s not a matter of if, but when the variants will arrive in Rhode Island, especially since there have been cases reported in neighboring states.

“We haven’t formally seen it here in Rhode Island yet, but because we know it is in our neighboring states and because we know how quickly it spreads, we expect it to be here within a couple of weeks, if it’s not already.”

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