COVID COVERAGE

Health director: RI 'doing best we can' with limited vaccine supply

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Rhode Island is “doing well” in its distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations despite the challenges posed by a limited supply coming from the federal level, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott told members of the media on Jan. 13.

“We are not receiving a lot of vaccine supply right now in the state … We are doing the best we can with what supply that we have,” she said during the weekly coronavirus briefing at The Vets in Providence, following the departure of Gov. Gina Raimondo and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee from the stage.

Alexander-Scott said Rhode Island is currently receiving approximately 14,000 doses of vaccine each week, enough to cover roughly 1.5 percent of the state’s population. She said roughly 2,000 doses are being administered each day – some days more, some days less – and noted that the “very operationally complex process” involved in distributing the doses means there is roughly a one-week gap between when vaccine arrives in the state and when it is administered.

At present, the available doses continue to be distributed to a number of groups deemed most essential to the state’s response – frontline health care workers and first responders, for example – and those in some of the most high-risk settings, such as nursing homes and other congregate care facilities.

“We need to protect them so that they can protect us,” she said of health care workers. She also noted that by week’s end, all nursing homes in the state will have visited at least once as part of the distribution effort.

As of last week, Alexander-Scott said, Rhode Island had received approximately 72,000 doses of vaccine since December. Of that total, about 16,000 doses had been directed to pharmacies as part of their work administering shots to staff and residents at congregate care facilities through a federal partnership.

That left approximately 55,000 doses over which the state has full oversight, Alexander-Scott said. As of Jan. 13, she said, more than 50,000 of those doses had been distributed and reached the point of being administered or scheduled to be administered.

On Tuesday, updated figures from the Department of Health showed 46,817 first doses of vaccine had been administered, along with 11,049 second doses. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two separate shots weeks apart.

That state is not directly giving vaccination shots, instead directing the doses to health care providers and other organizations, such as the National Guard, to complete the process.

The vaccination schedule for the coming week involves “continuing with many of those same groups” that have currently been prioritized, Alexander-Scott said.

The biggest changes will involve bringing additional group home residents, as well as other senior housing and assisted living facilities, into the fold. She also expects “limited vaccination” for outpatient providers, such as staffers at primary care, dental and behavioral health offices.

The federal government has issued new guidance advising states to make COVID-19 vaccines available to all residents over the age of 65. Alexander-Scott said Rhode Island is instead taking an “incremental approach when it comes to older adults and other priority groups,” given the size of the 65-plus population – which she put at roughly 190,000 people – and the continued limitations in the state’s supply.

Alexander-Scott acknowledged other states have made vaccinations more freely available to older residents, but cautioned that some of those states have experienced “a lot of confusion and disorganization” as a result.

She cited reports of seniors waiting hours in line for a shot in Florida, only to be turned away due to a lack of supply. She also spoke of her experience trying to arrange for her mother, a New York resident, to be vaccinated, and finding that it would take several weeks to do so.

“In Rhode Island, we are vaccinating older adults incrementally and thoughtfully … We know that there is tremendous demand for vaccine right now,” she said.

The latest COVID-19 data update from the Department of Health, released Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, showed 361 new cases identified from among 8,736 tests, a positive rate of 4.1 percent.

Fourteen more Rhode Islanders have died due to COVID-19, bringing the state’s overall toll to 2,045 since the onset of the crisis. As of Tuesday, 366 people were hospitalized due to the coronavirus.

Week-to-week data paint an improved picture for the state. The percent positive rate for last week was 5 percent, down from 6.6 percent the week prior.

New hospital admissions remained basically steady over the same timeframe, dropping to 391 from 382.

The number of new cases per 100,000 residents dropped last week to 569, up from 761 the week prior.

“We are not out of the woods … but I am relieved to see a 5 percent test positivity and the lowest number of new hospitalizations since mid-November,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo last week said the state currently has the capacity to run 12,500 COVID-19 tests each day and plans to double that number in the next month.

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