PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The spread of the coronavirus in Rhode Island could potentially decrease significantly by February, Dr. Ashish Jha said Monday, based on current estimated vaccine timelines.
Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said while the majority of people may not be vaccinated until the spring, the combination of those who have already had the virus and the first cohorts of people vaccinated could mean roughly a third of the state has some immunity by February.
“It all depends on how quickly we can get these vaccines out,” Jha said in an interview for WPRI 12’s Pulse of Providence.
“If you believe the targets set by Operation Warp Speed, 50 million Americans will have gotten vaccinated” by the end of January, Jha said. “That’s about 16%, 17% of the population. I expect that in Rhode Island by that time probably 20% of the population may have already been infected. If you combine them, with some overlap, 30%, 35% of people may be immune by then.”
No vaccine has been approved or authorized yet by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but three vaccine candidates have reported promising early results from trials and one of them has submitted an application for emergency use authorization to the FDA.
“Even by the end of January into early February, we will start seeing spread of the virus slow way down,” Jha said. “I expect widespread availability of vaccines by April.”
Pfizer, the company that has already submitted an application to the FDA, chose Rhode Island as one of four states to participate in a pilot program for the delivery, deployment, and administration of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Rhode Island’s draft vaccine distribution plan prioritizes high-risk health care workers and first responders for the first doses of the vaccine, followed by people with significant health conditions and the elderly living in congregate settings like nursing homes.
The next phase would provide the vaccine to teachers, childcare providers, critical workers, other people in congregate settings, and all older adults. A third phase would provide the vaccine to children, young adults and other workers, according to the draft.
The R.I Department of Health does not know exactly how many doses the state will receive in its first distribution, but does expect to receive doses of the Moderna vaccine “within days” of the Pfizer vaccine, spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said Monday.
At the same time as the nation and Rhode Island gear up for a vaccine, Jha said he expects testing to ramp up, with “many tens of thousands of tests a day” by early 2021.
“What I would love to get to a point of is anyone, symptomatic or asymptomatic, can walk in and get a test,” Jha said.
Rhode Island is set to enter a two-week “pause” on Nov. 30, which Gov. Gina Raimondo said will shutter certain businesses and activities while reducing the capacity of others. The social gathering limit has also been severely cut to a single household, though adults who live alone are permitted to gather with one other household up to five people.
Jha said two weeks is the “bare minimum” for a pause to result in meaningful data, and said there should be some information about whether the pause is working to slow the spread by the end of the two weeks on Dec. 13.
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