RI health officials say while vaccinations are progressing, growth is slowing


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island health officials say even though the state has recently surpassed President Joe Biden’s goal of getting 70% of adults vaccinated by July 4, they are not slowing down.

Nearly 74% of adults 18 years and older are partially vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Ocean State, with nearly 65% of adults fully vaccinated.

“COVID is not over,” Tricia Washburn, chief of the Office of Immunization said in Tuesday morning’s meeting of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee.

“It gets a little bit harder once we reach higher percentages of the people who are vaccinated,” Washburn added.

As of June 7, health officials say 93% of Rhode Islanders 65 and older are vaccinated, while 89% of those 55 and older are vaccinated.

“The great news here is, among all age bands, we are continuing to see progress, but it’s just at a slower rate than what we have seen early on in our vaccination efforts,” Washburn said.

The latest data provided in Tuesday meeting shows 54% of Rhode Islanders 16-18 had been vaccinated, with the state estimating about 8,400 more vaccinations were needed to reach 70% of that age group vaccinated.

Additionally, about 37% of Rhode Islanders ages 12-15 have been vaccinated, and health officials say about 35,100 more individuals in that age group need to be vaccinated in order to reach the 70% target.

Washburn also explained how a majority of Rhode Islanders under the age of 18 vaccinated so far had received their COVID-19 shot through a mass vaccination site. Specifically, 47% of children 12-15 received a vaccine at a mass vaccination center, compared to 44% of those in the 16-18 age group.

However, most of the state’s mass vaccination sites are set to close in the coming weeks, which Washburn says means the focus will need to again shift for where younger Rhode Islanders will go to get vaccinated.

To date, she says 113 municipal school clinics have been completed, and eight more first-dose clinics are scheduled through June. Only 25% of children ages 12-15 were vaccinated through municipal school pods, and just 16% of teenagers 16-18, according to Washburn.

Family practices and pediatricians were the first primary care providers onboarded to the COVID-19 vaccine network in order to address the 12-to-15-year-old population.

Washburn says out of roughly 140 providers who received a survey gauging interest in administering COVID-19 vaccines, a little more than 80 family practices and pediatricians completed it.

About 30% expressed no interest in administering the vaccine, which Washburn attributes in part to concerns about storing and handling the shots, in addition to having adequate staffing and resources.

Of the 80 who completed the survey, she says 70 providers have received their COVIDReadi Applications, and 28 of those providers have completed the onboarding process. However, Washburn says only ten of the 28 providers have begun administration.

“We are hearing that practices are struggling to find demand,” she said on Tuesday.

According to Washburn, some doctors said they weren’t interested because a majority of patients at their practice had been vaccinated, while others said some parents or guardians of their patients were still unsure, or did not want to vaccinate their children.

With many colleges requiring vaccinations for the fall and schools looking to reopen fully in person, Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said students should be getting their first shot by July 4 at the latest, so they’ll be fully vaccinated before school opens.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose.

The subcommittee, which originally held weekly, then biweekly meetings, is now moving to monthly discussions, following Tuesday morning’s Zoom call.

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