Still no decision on prioritized groups in RI’s Phase 2 for vaccine distribution

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Friday morning, the Rhode Island COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee met to outline the next steps for Phase 2 of the state’s vaccine distribution.

Over a month since the first doses were administered in Rhode Island, sub-groups in Phase 2 have still not been clearly defined yet, and as Target 12 reported earlier in the week, the state has a big task in deciding who gets prioritized.

In last week’s subcommittee meeting, the group discussed how it may consider age, high-risk conditions, occupation, and geography when more clearly defining the sub-groups in the next phase.

The subcommittee said ethnicity and socioeconomic status would also be considered.

Friday, the group took comments from subcommittee members and the public, who advocated on behalf of certain populations to receive the vaccine next.

R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott went over the subcommittee’s work so far in a meeting of the state’s House of Representatives Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccine Wednesday afternoon.

Alexander-Scott explained why figuring out how to prioritize certain occupations may pose more challenges than figuring out by age or where they live.

“If we look at age, the ability to reduce hospitalizations and deaths is high,” Alexander-Scott said. “To also operationalize it, the ability to do that is high, as we can easily see when someone’s date of birth is and whether or not they qualify, and the ability to message it to the population is high.”

“When we look at occupation, there are much more challenges involved with operationalizing it quickly, The operational feasibility is therefore related as low,” she continued.

“How are you going to decide, who are all of the grocery clerks that are out there?” Alexander-Scott asked, “And when people show up to get vaccinated, how do we verify that, and how do we capture and know that we’re getting 100% of the population?”

“Those types of questions are more challenging, We could, and we would, if we had to, but we had the opportunity to see, what are some other ways to have us be just as, if not more effective, but then also, operationalized easier, and then communicate it more easily,” she continued.

Alexander-Scott said looking at where someone lives is more operationally feasible in making population prioritization decisions like the state did with Central Falls in Phase 1.

“So this is a snapshot of how we are continuing to look at Phase 2, and how it’s going to get us to the outcomes of getting everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Alexander-Scott said.

The state has identified about 220,000 potential frontline essential workers that didn’t qualify for Phase 1, the biggest includes roughly 36,000 in the education sector.

Before next week’s subcommittee meeting, the group plans to review the data and subcommittee recommendations with the COVID-19 Vaccine Executive Steering Committee, and if those are operationally feasible.

Next Friday, the recommended Phase 2 prioritization will be reviewed with the subcommittee before becoming finalized, and an operational plan is created.

Friday morning, the R.I. Department of Health also provided an update on the state’s vaccination effort.

Dr. Philip Chan, Consultant Medical Director in the Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease and Emergency Medical Services at RIDOH, says demand for the vaccine in Rhode Island remains high.

“Our doses administered in Rhode Island per-capita is on par and actually much higher than many other states, the majority of other states per-capita,” Chan said.

“We’re getting a lot of questions here at the Department of Health about the vaccine, and as always we’re continuing to follow the science and the evidence related to the current two vaccines and others that are in development,” he continued.

With that begin said, Chan explained how there are continued questions to the department about why certain groups of people are getting vaccinated now and why others have to wait.

“The very simple answer is, the state of Rhode Island does not have the supply right now to vaccinate everyone who wants to be vaccinated,” Chan said. “And if we could, we would absolutely definitely vaccinate everyone who wants one, and that is our goal eventually.”

Tricia Washburn, who serves as chief for the Center for Preventive Services at RIDOH and Co-Lead in the COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Workgroup, reported the latest vaccination numbers.

According to Washburn, 72,175 doses had been received as of Jan. 12, and the state is continuing to order the maximum number of doses allocated every week by the federal government.

Washburn says the federal government has informed states that starting in two weeks, roughly Feb. 1, each state’s weekly allocation of doses will no longer be based on a per-capita basis.

“The weekly allocations will be based on reported data and what percentage of doses were received and administered,” Washburn said.

Washburn says as of 9:00 Friday morning, the state had vaccinated a total of 51,220 individuals, noting 41,977 people who got their first dose and 9,243 got their second dose, meaning they are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Chan says there has been a huge demand to vaccinate older adults, specifically the 65+ population, of which there are more than 187,000 Rhode Islanders

“We have to prioritize even within the age group of 65 years and older,” Chan said.

He also noted how some states have already started letting residents over the age of 65 sign up to get a vaccine, which has created unsafe conditions amid the ongoing pandemic, like long lines of people not practicing social distancing.

“We’re hopeful that the federal government will increase our supply,” Chan said.

“Until they do so, we don’t think it would really be responsible or strategic at all to open it up and create a demand that we just cannot accommodate, and frankly would lead to some of these unsafe situations that we’ve seen in other states,” he added.

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