Much to the apparent surprise of RI Department of Health (RI DoH) Director Dr Nicole Alexander-Scott, who was caught unaware on live television at her press conference at 1pm on Friday, January 28 – “RI Health Director Defends Vaccine Rollout”, Jan 28, by Michael Bilow – the City of Warwick opened a web page at 2pm to accept reservations for residents age 75 or older to be vaccinated against COVID-19. As Alexander-Scott was repeatedly saying that no action was required at this time to sign up, Warwick did exactly what she said would not happen.
According to Elizabeth Tufts, press secretary to Mayor Frank J. Picozzi, “Every municipality in the state was contacted by the Department of Health, literally yesterday [Thursday, January 27] saying, ‘Listen, we have some extra vaccines, we can start this rollout for 75-plus a little bit earlier, but we, depending on the size of your city or town, we’re going to give you a limited amount.’ So we got 390 doses, we were told literally yesterday, we had to come up with a plan how to get the word out. Unfortunately, with 75-plus… they’re not tech savvy. So we did what we could on social media with the news outlets. Also the mayor sent out a robo-call to let people know… We had to create a link and a registration form.”
The available 390 slots filled up within a half-hour of the web page opening, but Tufts said the state had told the city to expect thousands more doses later in February, allowing the entire population age 75 and older to be vaccinated. There are an estimated 8,000 people in the city in this age range, she said, but many have already been vaccinated, including residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The city is aware that a web page may not be well suited to the elderly population. Tufts said, “If they don’t have access to a computer, we’re asking family to help out or they can contact Senior Services [401-468-4073], there’ll be people on hand to help punch in their information to get them an appointment. I know, again, at 75 a lot of people don’t have access to a computer, but there’s no other way to do this because we can’t go door to door, we can’t have them start lining up outside of City Hall with COVID.”
Signing up on the web form is “just simply your name, your date of birth, your address and your phone number,” Tufts said. “They’re grabbing a spot. Tomorrow [Friday, January 29], we compile all this information. We have 10 to 12 volunteers calling them back” to provide specific appointment times. The Swift Community Center in East Greenwich is a regional vaccine point of dispensing (PoD), Tufts said, serving seven municipalities allocated vaccine for this round based upon population, with Warwick and Cranston receiving 390 doses each and East Greenwich receiving 80. “Once we [Warwick] get our time slots, we’re going to call them back and give them the day because we’re having a February 1st, 2nd, 3rd and then we’re going to say, ‘Okay, can you do Monday at 2pm?’ If they can’t, then they lose their spot because… they can’t pick and choose at this point because we don’t know what’s going to happen.” This specific clinic will be at this PoD because it was already set up to vaccinate first responders, Tufts said, but future clinics for Warwick residents will be in Warwick. “We just have to do it quickly because it’s the Moderna vaccine. We have to use it by a specific date, and we have it so that place was ready to go.”
It is not clear whether other cities and towns will follow the lead of Warwick in setting up their own vaccine reservation system instead of the state-run system contemplated by Alexander-Scott.
Cranston announced that “Residents interested in pre-registration are to call the Cranston Senior Services Center at 401-780-6000 on Friday, January 29, 2021 from 9:00am to 4:00pm. At this time, due to the limited allotment of doses available during this initial phase, the vaccine will be administered to Cranston residents according to their date of birth with the 390 oldest residents given priority. RIDoH regulations require resident email addresses in order to pre-register. A government issued ID and proof of residency are also required. Following pre-registration, qualifying applicants will be contacted by a city representative on Saturday, January 30, 2021 or Sunday, January 31, 2021 to schedule their first and second vaccination appointments.”