Central Providence coalition seeks COVID-19 vaccine priority

THE ZIP CODES with the most COVID-19 infections in Rhode Island, per 100,000 population. /COURTESY R.I. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

PROVIDENCE – A coalition of Central Providence health advocates have asked the state to provide the hard-hit neighborhoods of the city the same targeted focus for the COVID-19 vaccines as was done in Central Falls.

The coalition, members of the Central Providence Health Equity Zone, sent a letter Thursday to the state’s newly designated executive director of COVID-19 response, asking for more consideration.

The coalition includes Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, of Providence, as well as ONE Neighborhood Builders, Social Enterprise Greenhouse, The Steel Yard, West Elmwood Housing Development Corp. and the Smith Hill Community Development Corp.

The letter to Tom McCarthy, recently appointed as the state COVID-19 response director, argues that Rhode Island’s strategy for vaccine distribution has not been equitable.

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Although the state is now emphasizing age-based distribution of the vaccine, with the oldest Rhode Islanders receiving priority, the organization said that Providence neighborhoods have populations that are disproportionately affected by the disease.

For example, 7.3% of the state population is over 75, but in Providence it’s only 4.7%, and the hard-hit ZIP codes have even lower percentages of older residents.

The coalition asks that three zip codes be targeted for vaccine priority — all people of all ages in ZIP codes 02909, 02908 and 02907 — which are three of the five ZIP codes in the state that have cumulatively seen the most infections per capita since the pandemic began, according to R.I. Department of Health data.

The coalition asks the state to set aside 50% of the vaccination appointments for Providence at those three locations and designate the slots exclusively for people in the ZIP codes, allowing health equity workers to certify the residency of vaccine recipients on behalf of their constituencies.

Starting Feb. 22, Rhode Island will move to age-based distribution of vaccines for people age 65 and older, entering Phase 2. Central Falls, which has had the most infections of any community in the state, has received priority for vaccinations since Phase 1.

The per-capita infection statistics, sorted by ZIP code, now show that Slatersville, a village of North Smithfield, has the most infections per-capita for the state.

Before joining the R.I. Department of Health, McCarthy was chief of staff for the R.I. Department of Education and was a director of pharmacy benefits management for CVS Health Corp.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.

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