R.I. to open centralized registration for COVID-19 vaccines

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, speaking at a Facebook Live event Tuesday, said that she has been trying to get more vaccine into the state./COURTESY R.I. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH.

PROVIDENCE — The state, which as yet has no centralized registration for the general public for COVID-19 vaccines, expects to launch one within one to two weeks, according to R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.

Rhode Island is preparing to open state-run vaccination centers, designed to accommodate large numbers of people. It has not done so as yet because the supply of vaccines has been constrained, and so the state has distributed the vaccine that is coming through retail pharmacies and through city and regional sites.

“Our goal in those sites will be volume,” she said on Tuesday, of the large, state-run centers. “Getting as many people through as safely and efficiently as possible.”

A centralized registration website for that purpose should be up and operating within the next two weeks, she said.

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As of Tuesday, Rhode Island had fully vaccinated about 3.4% of its population, according to data compiled and published by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Until recently, the state has been receiving only 14,000 doses a week. That amount is expected to incrementally rise.

Starting next week, the city and town hubs will get a total of 7,000 doses a week, Dr. Alexander-Scott said, which will be allocated among the communities based on population. The cities and towns started those vaccinations about two weeks ago.

Her comments came in a FaceBook Live event described as an opportunity to answer viewer questions on the vaccine distribution, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo and R.I. Department of Health officials took no questions from the several dozen posted as the event unfolded for 30 minutes.

Instead, the state officials, including Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee, who is slated to replace Raimondo as governor, spoke among themselves. They covered issues raised in several previous press conferences, including a description of the three kinds of locations where the first general population in Phase I – Rhode Islanders aged 75 and older – may qualify for a vaccine appointment.

As the officials spoke, more than two dozen questions were posted in the Facebook Live session by people identifying as Rhode Islanders, asking when they would be eligible to be vaccinated. Some cited specific conditions, including a woman who said she has asthma and uses an inhaler three times daily. “When is my turn,” she wrote.

Another woman said she’s 47, and is extremely high risk for COVID-19 because she has lung cancer. “Anything for the schedule is age-based and the state forgot about people with cancer,” she wrote.

Others expressed frustration with the limited scheduling on retail pharmacy websites. “Seniors, the forgotten generation who sustained RI for the past 50y ears,” posted one woman, as the event drew to a close.

Raimondo, who has stayed mostly out of public view since she was nominated early last month to serve as the next United States secretary of commerce, opened the session by telling viewers she had visited a large vaccination center in Cranston, part of a building that also includes a COVID-19 field hospital. The site is now being used to vaccinate people contacted because they qualify through their employment.

“I want to thank the National Guard and the Department of Health,” she said. “It’s being run incredibly smoothly. We still have a limited supply of vaccine. The lieutenant governor and I have been working hard to get more vaccine allocation from the federal government. It is still really constrained but we are doing our best to get them out the door and shots into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”

The lieutenant governor’s office is working in tandem with her office, she said, before turning the presentation over to McKee.

McKee said his transition to governor once Raimondo is confirmed as commerce secretary is going to be seamless because of the teams that are in place.

“The wheels [of government] are going to keep turning,” he said.

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

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