My name is Dr. Philip Chan, and I'm one of the infectious diseases physicians and medical directors at the Rhode Island Department of Health. I've been working closely with our immunization team to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine here in Rhode Island. Governor Raimondo asked me to provide you with an update on our progress thus far.
This has been a challenging year filled with frustration and loss for so many of us, including me. I know first-hand how strenuous it's been on our frontline healthcare providers, who are working around the clock to keep Rhode Islanders safe and healthy. But as we look toward 2021, I am filled with optimism that our vaccination efforts will turn things around.
We are currently using two COVID-19 vaccines in Rhode Island: one made by Pfizer and one made by Moderna. After weeks of scrutiny — extensive clinical trials with tens of thousands of participants followed by teams of FDA scientists examining the vaccine's effectiveness, safety, potential side effects, and manufacturing process and an independent review by Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee — we've found that both vaccines are safe. Both are enormously effective (~95%). This is a huge step forward in the fight against COVID-19!
Because we began planning for this months ago, our vaccination campaign hit the ground running. Rhode Island currently has one of the best state-level immunization programs in the country. We've vaccinated nearly 13,000 people already and have 14,000 doses of the two vaccines coming into Rhode Island each week.
We started off vaccinating high-risk workers in hospitals, and this week started vaccinating residents and staff in nursing homes. We're planning to administer initial doses of the vaccine at all nursing homes by mid-January. This week, we also started clinics for home health and hospice workers, EMS personnel, and first responders.
Once we've protected our healthcare workers, we’re going to move to additional populations who work or live in higher-risk settings. We have a major focus on equity. That means not only making sure that the communities and sectors hardest hit have access to vaccine first but also making sure that every person in every neighborhood in Rhode Island has access to a vaccine. Transportation issues or lack of health insurance will not be barriers for anyone. The vaccine will be available to all Rhode Islanders regardless of insurance status, and no one will have to pay out of pocket.
As the vaccine becomes more available in the coming weeks, we will continue to provide regular updates about who can get vaccinated and where. We plan to make vaccines as accessible as possible at local doctor's offices, pharmacies, community clinics, and more. But we are all going to need to be patient. Rhode Islanders will be vaccinated over the course of months, not weeks.
The pandemic has truly been a marathon, and while we've come so far already, we still have a little ways to go. Marathons are the toughest right before the end, but soon the finish line will be in sight. Between now and then, we need to stay focused – wear masks, practice physical distancing – in addition to getting vaccinated when it's our turn. So thank you, everyone, for your patience and diligence during this time. We are getting through this together!
Dr. Philip A. Chan, MD, MS
Medical Director, RIDOH