‘Optimistic news’: Dr. McDonald on pending arrival of COVID vaccine in RI

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It’s the moment Americans have been talking about for months: the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine.

If the FDA approves it, which could happen as soon as next week, Rhode Island officials estimate the state will receive 29,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of 2020.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Dr. Jim McDonald of the R.I. Health Department told 12 News during his weekly interview on Thursday. “It’s optimistic news.”

  • Watch the full Q&A with Dr. McDonald in the video above

McDonald said the initial 29,000 doses will be able to vaccinate roughly 14,500 people, since both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two shots. Because of that, it’s likely to take some time to immunize all the people who fall into high-priority groups like congregate care residents, health care workers and first responders, he said.

“We’re going to be getting more doses every week,” McDonald explained. “I expect we’re going to be getting a little bit less than 10,000 doses every week.”

He said the state is still finalizing its plan for how to dole out the vaccine, particularly because it causes an immune response that can make some people feel under the weather. For that reason, he said they aren’t likely to immunize an entire hospital staff at once.

The vaccines do not contain the coronavirus, and instead provide what McDonald compared to a blueprint for how to make antibodies.

“It kind of shows up at your house, builds something and leaves,” he said. “But you’re left with a protected immune system.”

While some have questioned the safety of the vaccine and whether it’s being rushed out to the public, health officials say it is undergoing the same rigorous vetting that all vaccines are put through.

Asked whether he would get the shot on camera to prove it’s safe, McDonald said, “I’d be happy to.”

“If it looks like the demand is going through the roof, I don’t want to take it away from someone else,” he said. “But if it looks like people need me to lead by example, I’ll come right over to the studio [and] we can do it right there.”

Even as more people get immunized, McDonald cautioned that it will take months to build widespread immunity, estimating that about 90% of Rhode Islanders have yet to be infected by the coronavirus.

“It’s going to help a few people right away,” he said about the vaccine. “But for the vast majority of us, we’re still susceptible.”

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