RI not on track to make all adults eligible for vaccine by May 1; officials cite supply issues

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — President Joe Biden’s goal to make all adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May may not be met in Rhode Island, according to state health officials, who say current supply projections do not support the timeline.

In a meeting of the R.I. COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee Tuesday morning, health officials provided a forecast of future vaccine allocations and shared the estimated Phase 2 timeline was “under heavy discussion,” regarding how to appropriately shift it so the state could be able to open vaccine appointments to all adults by the President’s May 1 goal.

However, state health officials said they did not anticipate Rhode Island would have enough vaccine in order to reach that goal, citing continued supply issues.

“But surprises happen, and we would love to be pleasantly surprised,” Alysia Mihalakos, chief of the R.I. Health Department’s Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Tuesday morning.

In an interview with 12 News Monday, Gov. Dan McKee promised the state would reach a point where supply outpaces demand, estimating that would occur sometime in May. McKee added he was hoping to lift the eligibility requirements by May 1 as President Joe Biden has directed.

12 News reached out to McKee’s office for comment on Tuesday and received a response from R.I. Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken, who said they are “100% confident that we can meet President Biden’s target, if we start getting enough vaccine,” noting that the state has the capacity to administer 100,000 doses a week.

“There are two ways to look at this question: based on what we are getting now and based on what we anticipate getting in the future,” Wendelken explained. “The team that spoke this morning was referencing what we have in writing, which is how much vaccine is coming to Rhode Island in the next three weeks. However, we have every expectation that our vaccine supply will increase beyond that.”

Allocations most up in the air relate to the state’s supply of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot. Health officials say the state only received 1,300 doses of the single-dose shot this week, following an initial shipment of 9,100 doses at the beginning of March.

In a presentation to the subcommittee Tuesday, state health officials projected the state would receive 16,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson per week in the near future.

Johnson & Johnson previously shipped out its entire supply to states in early March after receiving an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the vaccine got approval at the state level.

At the time, states were told to expect the supply would stop for three weeks due to manufacturing constraints. Health officials said it was likely the next amount of doses would be reduced.

Wendelken told 12 News on Monday the state has not administered all of its J&J vaccine, but anticipated doing so this week.

In a presentation to the subcommittee Tuesday, health officials said the state has received roughly a 5% increase in Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine. Currently, the state gets roughly 50,000 total doses per week comprising of 15,000 first doses and 13,000 second doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, along with 10,800 first doses and 10,800 second doses of Moderna’s vaccine.

“We anticipate that by June, we would almost a 100% increase and be up around 100,000 first and second doses each week,” Tricia Washburn, chief of the Office of Immunization, said.

Tuesday morning, officials also provided an update on the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care (LTC) Program, reporting 97% of the vaccines allocated to these facilities have been administered so far.

Clinics for nursing homes ended earlier this month, which resulted in roughly 14,000 unused doses. This allowed for Gov. Dan McKee’s push to prioritize teachers to become a reality, which aligned with President Joe Biden’s directive to get teachers at least one dose by the end of March.

Last week, K-12 teachers, school staff, and childcare providers began making their vaccine appointments through local clinics in their own cities and towns, as opposed to the state-run sites. Appointments at retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens were made available prior to the state making teachers eligible.

Health officials reported Tuesday that most of 5,459 vaccinations that took place the week of March 8 occurred over a four day period, and more are planned in the next two weeks.

“We do know that through the other channels, folks were able to make over 13,000 appointments to get vaccinated in other locations. So, our demand signal here is slightly lower than we originally anticipated, but will still be significant in terms of ensuring anyone in this group who wants the vaccine will have access to it,” Mihalakos said.

Assisted living facilities are anticipated to be done with vaccination clinics by the end of March.

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