COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee discusses equity and speed problems

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Rhode Island COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee met Friday morning to discuss where the state is in its vaccine roll-out plan and where it needs to go in the future.

As the process continues, the state continues to battle with who to vaccinate, how to do it, and when.

“How can we get as many vaccines out there as possible through as many channels?” Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said.

The group discussed problems with equity and reach to certain areas with phase two. Dr. Alexander-Scott says Rhode Island has really put an emphasis on equity within its vaccination plan, rather than speed.

“We’re going for the individuals who are at highest risk for hospitalization and for death and that ends up being at some cost to the speed dynamic,” Dr. Alexander-Scott said.

Committee members like Care New England’s Dr. Pablo Rodriguez say equity still continues to be a major problem in the roll-out process.

“The percentage of vaccines that are going to people of color is still low,” Rodriguez said. “Even with our efforts, that percentage is really woefully inadequate considering the number of people affected in communities of color.”

Rhode Island’s approach targets high-density, low income populations like Central Falls. So far this week, more than 7,000 doses were allocated to residents there. However, doctors say the minute doses started opening to the elderly public, equity went out the door.

“We were trying to get 900 people vaccinated over the weekend, kind of a last minute effort,” a committee member said. “More than half of those were taken up by the East side of Providence. It was just an example to both of us that we really focused on speed this weekend and in doing that, the equity part kind of got lost.”

Meanwhile, the state is working on more ways for the public to get vaccinated. The three main avenues are RIDOH vaccination centers, pharmacies, and specialized channels for hard-to-reach populations.

“There are a lot of seniors that feel they’re not being reached; they’re not being heard,” Committee member Teresa Paiva-Weed said. “The reality on the ground right now is a considerable amount of the public feels left behind.”

Starting this weekend, residents 75 and older can sign up through CVS and Walgreens to make an appointment.

Dr. Alexander-Scott says the state is working on a phone registration system to give seniors better access and on a public sign up system for a state run vaccination site.

The group also addressed anticipation of vaccine supply changes in the future. Right now, the state is receiving about 14,000 to 16,000 doses. Next week will be the first time they won’t need to allocate 50% of the federal supply to long-term healthcare facilities as they begin to wrap up phase one. By February 21st, they anticipate an increase to about 19,000 doses.

The next vaccine subcommittee meeting will likely be an emergency called meeting for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine if approved in the U.S.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Providence, Rhode Island