Tuesday marks 1 year since the first COVID vaccine was administered in RI


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been one year since Rhode Island’s first COVID-19 vaccines were administered to frontline health care workers at Rhode Island Hospital.

Dr. Christian Arbelaez, Rhode Island Hospital’s attending physician and vice chair of academic affairs and emergency medicine, made history becoming the first to be vaccinated in the Ocean State.

He told 12 News at the time he was “excited and thankful” to receive the shot, which would help him and his colleagues keep up the fight against the pandemic.

“The battle we’re fighting at the bedside has been really hard and in my 20-year career, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Arbelaez previously said.

“I want to ask you to please get the vaccine so you can keep yourself and your family healthy,” he added. “We will stop the spread in our communities if you get vaccinated. The vaccine is not the virus. The vaccine works by confusing the body to help your body create an army to fight it. The vaccine is safe, that’s why I got it today.”

In the year since those first shots were administered, tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders have gotten vaccinated as well.

The latest data from the Department of Health shows more than 80% of the state’s population has gotten at least one dose, and 71% of the population is considered fully vaccinated.

While the situation this year is a much different place than this time last year, in recent weeks the state has seen COVID cases on the rise again. State data shows most of the cases are among unvaccinated residents but there have been breakthrough infections.

The uptick in cases, along with concerns about the new omicron variant, is part of why health officials are encouraging booster shots.

12 News spoke with Dr. Cameron Webb from the White House COVID-19 Response Team about the best ways to stay healthy and protected.

“The vaccines are a critical part of that. So having that immunologic protection, for anybody older than the age of 5, that’s certainly a hallmark of what good protection in the weeks and months ahead should look like,” Webb explained. “I think that mask-wearing has got to be critical, particularly in indoor spaces, it’s just going to be an important way to prevent the spread. Even for folks who are vaccinated, wearing masks is just another layer of protection.”

Gov. Dan McKee is also expected to announce a plan Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. to address the rising number of positive cases and relieve pressure on the state’s hospital system, while keeping schools open for in-person learning and preventing economic disruptions to small businesses.

The governor said he’s remaining focused on vaccinations, testing, masking and staffing capacity.

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