R.I. calls on schools with 20% or less vaccinated to hold clinics

SCHOOLS IN RHODE ISLAND with a less than 20% vaccination rate for COVID-19 among students are being asked by the state to hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics. This was announced at a COVID-19 update held by Gov. Daniel J. McKee on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. / SCREENSHOT FROM WPRI
SCHOOLS IN RHODE ISLAND with a less than 20% vaccination rate for COVID-19 among students are being asked by the state to hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics. This was announced at a COVID-19 update held by Gov. Daniel J. McKee on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. / SCREENSHOT FROM WPRI

PROVIDENCE – As Gov. Daniel J. McKee is pushing for increased COVID-19 vaccination among children, especially in cities where inoculation rates are relatively low, the Rhode Island Department of Education said it doesn’t have any benchmarks for when it will ease the local mask mandate that’s being imposed on students in Providence Public Schools.

“We’re not there yet,” said R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “We’re working with the Department of Health. I don’t think that’s something we’re ready to be there. We’re going to continue to work on the vaccination clinics and continue to push.”

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McKee held a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday morning at the Lillian Feinstein Elementary School in Providence, focusing on efforts to increase the vaccination rates among children. 

The state is asking schools with a 20% or less vaccination rate in places such as Central Falls, Providence and Pawtucket, to host vaccination clinics. At the Lillian Feinstein Elementary School in Providence, which is holding a vaccine clinic on Sunday, there is a vaccination rate of 16%.

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Throughout Providence Public Schools, the vaccination rate among all school-aged children is 35%, far less than the 79% of children who are vaccinated in East Greenwich, Infante-Green said.

“It’s hard to hear that,” she said.

McKee said his administration is focusing on outreach, including Spanish-language advertising and communications.

“We want to boost those vaccination rates significantly,” McKee said. “We’re going to need to get into Spanish-speaking families with people who speak Spanish. We need to get into other communities with good people that are respected.”

R.I. Department of Health Interim Director Dr. James McDonald said parents who are not taking action to get their children vaccinated are putting the kids at risk, and increasing the chances that COVID-19 could spread among households.

“It’s important to remember that not making a decision is making a decision, and it’s putting your kids at risk a little bit,” McDonald said. “And it’s really important to remember that, although we don’t see a lot of serious disease in kids with COVID, that’s true for almost every disease I treat. It’s just important to remember that we want to protect every kid possible. And we want to protect the family members as well.”

To schedule an appointment to get kids vaccinated, Infante-Green said to go online to C19vaccineri.org, or call 844-930-1779.

McDonald said the RIDOH doesn’t have any plans to make vaccines mandatory for public school students.

“We are not looking right now at making this a vaccine requirement,” McDonald said. “The vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds became available Nov. 5. That really isn’t that long ago. We really need some time for parents to get used to this idea, and ask the questions. If you think about why people aren’t getting the vaccine: We have a trust problem. The trust problem is not something I can fix with one press conference, my friends. … We have to wait and see what we do here.”

McDonald said it’s possible that COVID-19 boosters could become an annual affair like flu shots.

“That depends on how many more variants we see,” McDonald said. “Really, what I see is this: If we see new variants that aren’t covered by the vaccine, then you’re going to see a periodic booster. That’s possible. That’s what the future might hold.”

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.

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