PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Fewer than half of all eligible K-12 public school students have been vaccinated against the coronavirus heading into winter break in Rhode Island, according to newly released data.

The R.I. Department of Health recently launched a new website showing vaccination rates among all eligible public-school students five years and older across the state. The most recently available data shows 48% of students are partially vaccinated and 42% are fully vaccinated. The rates are substantially lower than statewide trends, which is concerning to state health officials.

“I’m concerned about certainly younger folks,” said Dr. Philip Chan, consulting medical director for the state’s Health Department, during a taping of WPRI-TV’s Newsmakers on Thursday.

“I have a 14- and ten-year old – both are fully vaccinated – and I think a lot of parents are naturally concerned about anything involving the health of their kids and that’s normal and reasonable,” he added. “But these vaccines now have been out for well over a year, we know that they’re safe and effective”

Courtesy/R.I. Department of Health

The state’s vaccination breakdown – which excludes non-public schools – also shows how vaccination rates vary between individual schools. The rates range from fewer than 10% of students fully vaccinated in more than 50 schools to a high of 86% of students fully vaccinated at Barrington High School.

Most of the less vaccinated facilities are elementary schools – where many students only recently became eligible. High schools – where students 16 years and older have been eligible since April – made up the majority of schools with higher vaccination rates.

But that isn’t always the case.

At least ten high schools reported vaccination rates below 50%. Mount Pleasant High School in Providence reported the lowest rate, totaling 37%, and the capital city overall is trailing statewide totals.

Victor Morente, spokesperson for the state-run Providence school district, said earlier this year 33% of students had been partially vaccinated, and 27% of students had been fully vaccinated. But he was nonetheless hopeful the district could see an increase this week, as four vaccination drives were scheduled at schools across the city on Thursday.  

“Connecting students and families with the opportunity to get vaccinated continues to be the highest priority for the district,” Morente said.

Chan also noted the disparity of vaccination rates between more affluent suburban schools and poorer, more densely populated urban areas, saying the trend has been playing out as a theme throughout the pandemic.

“There are disparities among different socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, etc.,” he said. “We are doing our best. And certainly, we would love help from our community. We’ve been working with different stakeholders, different organizations, but we need to get the word out.”

“If there is anything we can do to help promote vaccine awareness, education, uptake, please let us know we are all hands-on deck,” he added. “We are trying to make this happen.”

The vaccination rate among all students has slumped compared to statewide rates overall. As of Wednesday, about 74% of the state’s 1.1 million people had been fully vaccinated compared to the 42% among students, according to the Health Department.

Younger people are less likely to become severely ill or die after contracting the virus. But the latest surge of infections in Rhode Island is also hitting younger people the hardest, raising the possibility that the younger generation could share the virus with older, and more vulnerable family members and adults in and outside of schools.

A Target 12 analysis of weekly infection rates by age group shows infections are highest among five- to nine-year-old Rhode Islanders. Over the past week, the age group saw 1,124 new cases per every 100,000 people. The second most infectious group was ten- to 14-year-olds. Case rates have been rapidly rising across all other age groups, too, as Rhode Island is currently averaging more new daily infections than this time last year.

Chan said the state’s data shows that people who are unvaccinated are getting vaccinated at several times the rate as people who are vaccinated. In all circumstances, he said, people should be getting shots.

“We know, just from our own data we’re seeing here in the state, that these vaccines work,” he said. “They keep people out of the hospital, they keep people from being infected. And people well know at this point the hospital system the health care system is really stretched to capacity so anything we can do to help them out certainly would be appreciated.”

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

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Steph Machado contributed to this report.