By ARDEN BASITA While the Department of Health has increased the number of doses of vaccine available to be administered by the city to residents 75 years and older, Mayor Frank Picozzi doesn't see the current system as sustainable, as the program is
While the Department of Health has increased the number of doses of vaccine available to be administered by the city to residents 75 years and older, Mayor Frank Picozzi doesn’t see the current system as sustainable, as the program is expanded to the next age group and eventually the entire population.
Picozzi made his observations Monday at Veterans Middle School at the first of eight consecutive Monday clinics where 640 vaccinations will be administered each Monday. The DOH increased the number of vaccinations by 100 over what had been initially planned. Fire Chief Peter McMichael said Wednesday if additional doses become available, the program would be expanded in successive Mondays.
The system in place is dependent on people registering for an appointment. The city then selects who is to get a vaccination in reverse order of age – the eldest first – and calls or emails to make an appointment.
Picozzi can’t imagine the system working once sufficient doses become available.
“We don’t want to waste time or vaccines, and it should get easier as people get younger,” he said. He called the current process “expensive and unsustainable.”
The Rhode Island Department of Health announced Wednesday that two state-run vaccination sites for people 75 years old and older will open today. The sites are located at 100 Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston and another at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence. Scheduling for these sites opened on Wednesday, Feb. 17 and appointments began on Thursday, Feb. 18. To sign up for appointments online, visit www.vaccinateri.org or call (844) 930-1779. Appointments will be limited on a first-come, first-served basis, and no walk-ins are allowed.
Appointments are currently open through Feb. 27, and additional appointments may be added through the week as slots open. Currently, the RIDOH is vaccinating only those aged 75 and older. Vaccinations for those aged 65 to 74 will likely begin in late February, with vaccinations for ages 60 to 64 and 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions likely beginning in mid-March. Those aged 50 to 59 will likely be vaccinated in April; while those aged 16 to 49 will likely receive vaccinations in mid-May and early June.
Limited vaccines are available to eligible individuals by appointment only at select CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, although active stores will change regularly based on vaccine supply, according to the DOH.
According to Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the RIDOH, municipalities will still operate vaccination sites.
Although Picozzi doesn’t see the city involved in the vaccination business down the road, the first of the city-run Monday clinics ran like clockwork. There were no lines and volunteers and city personnel were present to help elderly out of their cars and into the Vets gym where they were quickly escorted through the system of registering, receiving the vaccination and then remaining seated for a 15-minute observation.
Eleven vaccination stations were set up in the gym, where McMichael estimated one shot is given every seven minutes.
Starting the morning off, Linda Brocato, the volunteer pharmacist on duty, gave a pep talk before the first residents arrived. “Really remind the clients that they need to come back for their second dose. Feel free to share that they may be have a sore arm and that there are some side effects. They understand; they really want to get this.”
Brocato instructed volunteers to get ten doses per vial, at which point she and other EMTs would get an eleventh dose from what remains. “Don’t try and get every drop out, we’ll do that in the back. The Moderna vaccine is a suspension, so it’s going to be cloudy and look like your long acting insulin. Just swirl the bottle lightly, you don’t want to shake them,” said Brocato as she demonstrated how to prepare the vaccine for injection.
While McMichael and other city personnel are grateful to utilize Vets Middle School, it’s not the most ideal location.
Conveniently, Warwick students have district-wide distance learning days on Mondays, so the school was available for use.
“Thankfully, they don’t have class on Monday, but the downside is that it’s not a place where we can leave it up. We have to set up and break down every day,” McMichael said. School personnel are doing the setups and the breakdowns.
“We talked about doing it at the Pilgrim Senior Center maybe four days a week, but because of stipulations from RIDOH, we have to have a medical doctor on site and we have to have a pharmacist on site. They’re volunteering their time for this, so it’s easier to get someone to volunteer their time once a week instead of four or five days. So this was really the only option we had.”
McMichael also said the clinic was a culmination of community support, as he worked with Superintendent Philip Thornton, facilities maintenance manager Kevin Oliver, and IT director Dr. Jeff Taylor, who were all “100 percent supportive” and “very helpful.” Warwick Public Schools provided Chromebook laptops to the volunteers to use during the time.
Dave’s Fresh Marketplace was another community partner, donating lunches at reduced cost to the city for the volunteers. McMichael said the department is keeping tabs of costs and expects to be reimbursed by the federal government.
McMichael said they’re always looking for volunteers, especially licensed medical personnel, like medical doctors or pharmacists.
Joanne Pfeiler, school nurse at Warwick Neck Elementary School, was one of several school nurses who volunteered to administer the vaccine on Monday. Pfeiler had previously volunteered at the Swift Community Center in East Greenwich, and has administered COVID vaccines since the first distribution in December 2020.
Pfeiler doesn’t know how many vaccines she’s administered, but laughing said, “Oh gosh I don’t know, quite a few.”
School nurses from Winman Middle School, Toll Gate High School, and private schools also volunteered at the clinic.
“We’re fortunate enough to have the support of the community and the fire department to get this done,” said McMichael. “But I look forward to when the state opens the larger facilities.”
McMichael doesn’t have an exact idea about vaccinating the general population. “At that point, is it just going to be somebody going to the general practitioner and getting it there, just like you might go and get a flu shot, or just your local CVS or Walgreens,” he explained. “As we get back down in age, the urgency is obviously less. So getting these people vaccinated first is huge.”
Under the current system, residents over the age of 75 can register at warwickri.gov/vaccine or by calling (401) 738-2004.
Incoming Governor Dan McKee has made it his priority to speed up vaccination distribution, and according to a press release issued on Monday, he is meeting with Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, leaders at Harvard University, and his transition advisors to “ensure Rhode Island is prepared to immediately expand its vaccine distribution capacity.”