ABC6 News presses governor on decision to vaccinate teachers before others with underlying health conditions

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE)- Governor Dan McKee announced a statewide effort to vaccinate all teachers, staff, and child care workers by the end of the month, with some starting as soon as Friday.

While the governor said teachers are a priority, many Rhode Islanders, especially those under 65 with underlying health conditions, want to know why teachers are getting vaccinated before them.

“Teachers are a priority because our students are one of our top priorities, if not our top priority in the state,” McKee said.

In Rhode Island, anyone younger than 65 with underlying health conditions is still not eligible to get vaccinated. ABC6 pressed the governor for answers.

“You say that teachers are a priority but what do you have to say to people who have underlying health conditions?” ABC6 News anchor Brooke Taylor asked. “What about people who have cancer and they can’t get their shots? But teachers are a priority when we know it’s more fatal for those at high risk?”

“What I would say is make your appointments,” McKee said. “The scheduling is continuing to be the same schedule it was before. Make your appointments at the state sites.”

However, according to the Health Department’s guidelines, people 60 to 65 and those 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions aren’t eligible to get vaccinated until mid-March.

“Can you please reiterate?” Taylor asked. “There are people who are high risk who are younger than 65 years old and are at high risk. People in Rhode Island deserve answers.”

“I’ve answered the question, they can get online and make appointments,” McKee said.

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson with the Department of Health, confirmed those under 65 with underlying health conditions are not eligible to make appointments at this time.

The Governor’s Office later released a statement reading, “the schedule for vaccination eligibility has not changed. The plan has always been for people 60 to 64 and people 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions in mid-March. We expect to have additional information on that in a few days. We encourage Rhode Islanders to make an appointment when they become eligible based on the timeline established by the Department of Health.”

RI Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott insisted the new statewide effort to vaccinate teachers will not affect the timeline for the next group.

“We feel confident we are going to meet that target, “Dr. Alexander-Scott said.

Dr. Alexander Scott said they will remain on schedule because of 14,040 doses of surplus vaccine from the long-term care facility pharmacy partnership. That leftover un-administered vaccine will be reintegrated into Rhode Island’s general inventory.

Roughly 18,500 teachers, school staff, and child care workers need to be vaccinated, based on uptake trends and estimates on how many of these workers have already been vaccinated, according to the state.

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