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Q&A: When can I get a vaccine in Rhode Island?

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12 on 12: Vaccine 101

UPDATED: 1/22/2021

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — No topic related to the pandemic is driving more conversation and spurring more questions right now than how and when people will get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Since Rhode Island started vaccinating people on Dec. 14, people across the state have eagerly awaited news about when it will be their turn to get inoculated.

Many questions don’t have clear answers yet, but here’s a breakdown of what we know so far.

Can I get a vaccine right now?

Probably not.

Due to limited supply, the state of Rhode Island is only vaccinating certain frontline workers and high-risk individuals as part of Phase 1 of the rollout. Those groups — totaling about 235,000 Rhode Islanders — are broken down below and are being prioritized in that order.

As of 1/22/2021

I fall into one of these categories. How do I set up an appointment?

Contact your employer or place of residence.

The R.I. Department of Health is sending vaccines to various community and health care partners, who in turn are scheduling appointments with their employees or residents. If you fall under one of these categories, get in contact with your boss, union, trade group or place of residence to see if appointments are available yet.

As of Jan. 21, the state had not yet started vaccinated people 75 years and older who live at home, but health officials have said that process would likely begin mid-February. Vaccination sites could include pop-up clinics, senior centers or pharmacies, and more guidance about how to sign up will likely emerge in the coming weeks.

I don’t fall into one of these categories. When will Phase 2 start?

It’s unclear, but Rhode Island officials have set a tentative goal of beginning Phase 2 sometime between March and April.

April? Why so far away?

There aren’t enough vaccines. Health officials say the state is receiving 14,000 first doses per week, meaning it can only inoculate about 2,000 additional people per day. Based on that pace, the state estimates it could get through most of Phase 1 by the end of March. Officials say the process will speed up if more vaccine becomes available.

(As of 1/13/2021)

Who will get vaccinated in Phase 2?

It’s not set in stone yet, but health officials are leaning toward making everyone 16 to 74 years old eligible to receive a vaccine. However, priority would be given to people based on age, underlying health conditions and geography.

People 65 years and older would get to go first, followed by age in descending order with prioritization given to people with high-risk health condition — such as heart disease — along with where they live.

As of 1/22/2021

What are the age considerations?

Older adults first.

COVID-19 has disproportionately killed older adults: Rhode Islanders ages 60 and older make up about 31% of the adult population, but they represent 94% of the state’s nearly 2,000 coronavirus deaths since March. Fewer Rhode Islanders died during World War II.

Why underlying health conditions?

People who are sick are at a higher risk of dying. Like older adults, people with high-risk underlying health conditions are more likely to die after contracting the virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a list of high-risk conditions, ranging from cancer and heart conditions to smoking and Type 2 diabetes. State health officials are currently deciding what conditions would qualify in Rhode Island.

Why are they considering geography?

Some communities have been hit harder than others during the pandemic. Central Falls, with 20,000 residents living across roughly one square mile, has the highest rates of infections and hospitalizations in Rhode Island; Smithfield, Johnston and Woonsocket have the highest rates of deaths. The state has already started a pilot program in Central Falls, where health officials are inoculating anyone 65 years and older.

1/22/2021

I have a high-risk job, but it’s not part of Phase 1. Will I be vaccinated during Phase 2?

As it stands right now, occupation isn’t being prioritized.

Health officials had identified about 220,000 people considered frontline essential workers who did not qualify during Phase 1, but on Jan. 22 indicated they wouldn’t take someone’s job into consideration. The rationale? If adults with underlying health conditions in high-risk areas get inoculated first, vaccines will go to the most vulnerable people working in every industry.

Put another way, no favoritism based on employment

Can I pre-register for a vaccine?

Not yet. But on Jan. 15 health officials said they were considering some type of registry where people would be able to sign up and then be notified when eligible for a vaccine.

When I do get a vaccine, where will I get it?

There could be multiple options. Right now, most injections are happening in controlled settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Once the process moves out into the community, people could get vaccinated in various places, ranging from pop-up clinics to pharmacies. If the vaccine becomes widely available, health officials say large-scale vaccination venues will be considered.

The federal government has indicated it will not hold back second doses. Will that speed up the process?

Probably not. If that happens, it would likely mean the state would be responsible for holding back that second dose, meaning the weekly supply of 14,000 first doses would remain the same.

Is there any way the process speeds up?

Yes, with more vaccine. If the federal government increased how much Rhode Island is eligible to receive, or if more vaccines become available and overall supply is increased, Rhode Island would be able to start vaccinating at a faster clip.

Want to learn more?

Here are three links where you can find out more information about COVID-19 and the vaccine:

How do I provide feedback?

The R.I. Department of Health has set up an email where people can share their thoughts, comments and recommendations regarding the vaccine rollout:

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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