PROVIDENCE, R.I., -- On Thursday, Governor Dan McKee announced that all Rhode Islanders aged 16 or older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19. The governor’s announcement reverses the claim made by the R.I. COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee last Tuesday that Rhode Island would not meet President Biden’s deadline to make all adults eligible by May 1.
Gov. McKee stated that although all adults will be eligible by April 19, not everyone will be able to schedule an appointment at that time due to high demand. He is confident that everyone who wants to receive a vaccine will be able to schedule their first dose by the end of May. Gov. McKee said, “If Rhode Island can get the vaccine supply we need, we can achieve and beat this goal.”
Rhode Island’s announcement comes just days after both Massachusetts and Connecticut announced they would be opening vaccine eligibility to all adult residents before the end of April.
As the state has begun vaccinating larger portions of the population, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Vaccine Subcommittee have come under fire for their vaccine registration website. When eligibility for adults aged 60 and older and Rhode Islanders with underlying health conditions between the ages of 16 and 64 opened two weeks ago the website crashed and many residents were unable to book appointments. “The demand far outpaced supply.” Tom McCarthy, executive director of the RIDOH’s COVID-19 Response stated. “This wasn’t something unexpected, and we appreciate everyone’s patience.”
Gov. McKee said, “There was that real surge and that was something we probably should have been prepared for. That’s no longer the case.”
In preparation for increased vaccine demand, McCarthy stated that two additional vaccination sites are in development, one in Woonsocket and the other in South County. Moreover, Stop & Shop and Walmart have both announced that they would begin offering vaccines at select pharmacies.
According to McCarthy, nearly 80% of teachers, school staff and child care workers have received their first shot or have an appointment to do so. RIDOH Medical Director Dr. James McDonald said that Rhode Island could potentially reach herd immunity by Memorial Day. McDonald stressed the importance of continuing to wear masks and being patient when trying to schedule a vaccine appointment. “It’s not worth getting frustrated over because in a few weeks we are all going to get an appointment.” McDonald said, “It’s a critical time my friends. Don’t take anything for granted, we are not out of the woods yet, we got to beat the variant and we got to beat the variant hard.”
As larger portions of the population become vaccinated, Gov. McKee said that many of Rhode Island’s Higher education institutions wanted to require students to be vaccinated before returning to campus. “I can tell you I’m talking to higher education presidents that want to make it mandatory,” Gov. McKee told reporters on Monday. “You have so many shots that you need to get onto a college campus, and that’s being worked on right now.”
Dan Egan, President of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island said that because college students are already required to receive some immunizations, he would continue to advocate for mandatory vaccination providing the data continues to show vaccines are safe and effective. However, Egan stated that to require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, the vaccine would likely have to receive final approval by the Food and Drug Administration. All three COVID-19 vaccines currently being used in the United States have been approved under Emergency Use Authorization only.
Jon Taraborelli, spokesperson for Rhode Island College (RIC) told WPRI, “We appreciate the guidance and resources RIDOH provides to assist RIC with reducing the impact of COVID-19 on campus. We will continue to advocate for immunizations on campus, especially for employees with student-facing roles. However, we do understand that the demand greatly exceeds supply in Rhode Island.”
Over 146,000 Rhode Islanders have been fully vaccinated and more than 288,000 total doses have been administered to date.
For more information on vaccine eligibility or to schedule an appointment, visit https://covid.ri.gov/vaccination.