Rhode Island legislators hold first vaccine task force meeting

The new task force, announced last week by Speaker-elect Joseph Shekarchi, aims to work closely with the health department.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Between 10,000 – 50,000 people should be able to get vaccinated in Rhode Island by the end of this month, according to testimony given by doctors at Wednesday’s first-ever Covid Vaccine Task Force made up of state representatives.

The new task force, announced last week by Speaker-elect Joseph Shekarchi, aims to work closely with the health department on vaccine distribution.

Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said it’s important that the vaccine be distributed not only to healthcare workers but to other front line workers at risk.

He, and former Health Department Director Dr. Michael Fine, also told legislators equity must be at the forefront of distribution.

“There is a component of vaccination that is about ease of access, availability, and then we absolutely have to find ways to make sure there are no financial barriers,” said Dr. Ashish Jha.

The doctors explained that throughout the country at the beginning of the pandemic, most testing sites went up in wealthier communities, while densely populated and lower income communities, like Pawtucket and Central Falls, suffered.

“Let’s look at the mistakes that we made when this first came out, and then how can we fix it for the rollout of the vaccine?” said Representative Karen Alzate, who represents Pawtucket.

“How do we make sure that communities like Central Falls don’t get forgotten about,” said Representative Joshua Giraldo, who represents Central Falls.

Dr. Fine, who also led the ‘Beat Covid’ initiative in Pawtucket and Central Falls, says it will be important to remove barriers for these communities.

In order to do that, he says vaccine distribution has to be available after work hours, and to make sure there is plenty of education beforehand in several languages.

“People hear about these vaccines in language that they can understand and get their real questions answered, so they are treated with respect,” said Dr. Fine.

The doctors also stressed that transparency will be key throughout the process so people in these communities don’t feel like they’re being experimented on.

“As much as our communities have been hit really hard through this, we’re not guinea pigs,” said Alzate.

Some on the bipartisan task force asked why people should trust a vaccine developed in a matter of months instead of years.

Dr. Jha says it’s because of government and private funding, and because COVID-19 is similar to other viruses that have been extensively studied.

“We have cut no corners,” he insisted. “The scientific process by which this vaccine has been developed has been of the utmost integrity.”

Dr. Fine added that people should manage their expectations, and that vaccine distribution may be put on pause during the rollout.

“We learn about more rare side effects,” he said. “It’s part of the natural process.”

Dr. Fine says it could be three to six months before the general population is vaccinated.

The task force is set to meet again twice more this month, hearing from health department representatives and from Pfizer and Moderna executives.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Rhode Island