PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The pace of new people getting vaccinated in Rhode Island is projected to be cut in half beginning March 14, as the race to speed up inoculations has created a logistical quandary for the state.
The overall number of shots going into arms is not expected to slow down, but the state will need to allocate a greater portion of its still-limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine toward second doses.
A Target 12 analysis of supply projections shows roughly 61% of the doses available this week will go into the arms of new recipients. Beginning next week, however, only 26% of the vaccine supply will be made available to new people.
Put another way, Rhode Island has enough doses to vaccinate an average of 4,200 new people each day this week. Next week, the daily average will fall to about 2,100 – with some caveats.
“There are a lot of variables that would affect this breakdown,” R.I. Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said. On Monday he said about 14,000 unadministered doses from a nursing home pharmacy partnership are going to be reintegrated into the state’s inventory, and are slated to vaccinate teachers.
“We’re constantly adjusting,” Wendelken said.
The see-saw effect comes roughly three weeks after Rhode Island leaders shifted their vaccine rollout strategy amid mounting criticism, adopting a more rapid approach focused on getting as many new people inoculated as quickly as possible.
The shift helped Rhode Island shoot up national rankings, which now show Rhode Island as a leader when it comes to the share of total residents who have received at least one dose. But it also meant second doses were not being held back for future use.
It also calls into question how quickly Gov. Dan McKee will be able to accomplish his goal of getting Rhode Island teachers vaccinated.
“Rhode Island is working on a plan to get shots in the arm of all teachers and school staff,” McKee said during a weekly public health briefing Thursday.
He is slated to announce more details at an event on Tuesday morning.
The new governor — who criticized the state’s rollout strategy last month — has repeatedly said he wants to bump teachers up the prioritization list. But the math works against any rapid vaccination of teachers, especially as eligibility remains open to all adults 65 years and older.
And even more demand is on the horizon. Eligibility is supposed to expand to adults 60 years and older and to any adult with certain underlying health conditions around the same time that the first-dose supply is expected to shrink.
Wendelken said Monday that there are an estimated 70,000 adults between 60-64 in Rhode Island that aren’t already eligible for the vaccine, and 45,000 people with underlying conditions that will become eligible in mid-March. The Department of Health assumes 70% of those people will want to get the vaccine when it becomes available.
The estimated number of teachers and school staff that will be added to that total for eligibility this month was not immediately available. A certain amount of teachers would have already been eligible based on age, underlying conditions or geography, with high-density communities vaccinating younger people than the rest of the state.
The expected decline in first doses also takes into account the recent arrival of 9,100 Johnson & Johnson doses, which have helped offset what would otherwise be an even more dramatic decrease in first doses. Still, the initial allocation of J&J doses is only projected to last through this week and next week, and health officials say they still don’t know how much the state will regularly receive thereafter.
CVS Health has already been separately offering vaccines to teachers, as the pharmacy giant receives doses directly from the federal government and has decided to ignore local eligibility guidelines and instead follow the Biden administration’s policy. McKee said more details about how the state will prioritize teachers from its own supply would be made available this week.
“We’re going to get teachers and students safely back in the classroom,” McKee said Sunday during his inauguration ceremony. The Cumberland Democrat officially took over the state’s top position last week after former Gov. Gina Raimondo became U.S. commerce secretary.
Theoretically, there should be a significant boost in supply over the next couple months. President Biden last week said the United States is on track to have enough vaccine supply for all adults by the end of May. As of Friday, however, Rhode Island health officials said there was no official word on when the supply might increase in any significant way.
As of Sunday, roughly one out of of every five Rhode Islanders had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 8.4% of the state’s population had been fully vaccinated.