WESTERLY — While acknowledging the significance of administering more than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, state officials say they are not letting up in the campaign to slow the spread of the virus.
Gov. Dan McKee and the state Department of Health on Tuesday announced the administration of 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Rhode Island. The millionth dose, which includes vaccines distributed by the state and inoculations administered by the federal Veterans Health Administration, was put in an unidentified person's arm on Sunday.
The milestone was reached through a deliberate effort that started by focusing on first responders, health care professionals and congregate-care workers, which was followed by an effort to vaccinate all of the state's 75-and-older population. Over time, the age bracket was widened, and this week marked the start of vaccines being made available to children between the ages of 12 and 15.
"We now have upwards of 200 clinics and mass vaccine sites built for speed and scale, which enables us to make sure that every single dose we get into the state can get into an arm that week," said Thomas McCarthy, executive director of COVID-19 response at the state Department of Health, during an interview with The Sun on Wednesday.
In addition to encouraging clinics in schools, McCarthy, whose 12-and 13-year-old daughters were vaccinated on Wednesday, said the state effort is now focused on "getting vaccines in front" of those who have not yet been vaccinated by setting up pop-up clinics at businesses and other locations in municipalities throughout the state. Efforts are also underway to provide vaccines to physicians' offices based on a hope that residents who have been vaccine-hesitant will trust the advise of their own health care provider. Individuals with questions are encouraged to speak with the physician or their child's pediatrician, McCarthy said.
Because of uncertainty about whether herd immunity can be reached while some parts of the world struggle with inadequate access to vaccines, the goal in Rhode Island, according to McCarthy, is to "make sure we can vaccinate enough Rhode Islanders to ensure that COVID-19 can be effectively managed as an endemic infectious disease."
The new focus on children who are 12-15 should help prepare the state's youth for summer jobs, camps, and sports, and help during the 2021-22 school year, McCarthy said.
"We hope that by next fall and the new school year, this is a disease that can be managed like the seasonal flu is or other endemic diseases are," McCarthy said.
The state's access to vaccine supply from the federal government has been solid since shortly before availability was opened to those 16 and older, McCarthy said.
"Right before we opened to 16-plus we were able to secure additional doses based on performance we had. From that point forward our supply has kept up with demand," McCarthy said.
Throughout the vaccine effort, McCarthy said, state officials have stressed the need for community-based approaches. That has entailed the dozens of stationary clinics, mobile clinics, and in some cases door-to-door efforts.
"Westerly has been a fantastic partner all throughout in that area," McCarthy said.
A vaccine clinic has operated at the Westerly Senior Citizens Center since late February.
"There is a tremendous amount of work that went into that vaccine clinic. In particular, I know they reached out and called people to help with scheduling and we worked with local pharmacies," McCarthy said.
As of Wednesday, of the 19,492 residents of Westerly, 11,305, or 58%, had been at least partially vaccinated, according to statistics maintained by the state Child and Adult Immunization Registry. Of Charlestown's 6,724 residents, 65%, or 4,390, had been at least partially vaccinated; of Hopkinton's 6,777 residents, 63%, or 4,218, had been at least partially vaccinated; and of Richmond's 6,270 residents, 65.5%, or 4,104, had been at least partially vaccinated.
The governor renewed his call for residents of the state to get vaccinated.
“The one-millionth COVID-19 vaccine dose is a big milestone for the smallest state. Every shot brings us one step closer to the light at the end of the tunnel,” said McKee in a news release. "We've made encouraging progress since the first vaccine was administered last year thanks to the support of our doctors, nurses, volunteers, municipal leaders, Rhode Island National Guard members and so many others.
"I am grateful for every Rhode Islander who stepped up, got their shot and then helped someone else do the same. We have the momentum — let’s keep going."
Individuals who are fully vaccinated who come into contact with individuals who test positive for the virus are not required to quarantine, McCarthy said. "It limits all of that disruption that we had previously and helps us get back to normal," McCarthy said.