- As most states have expanded eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine, Rhode Island is the only state that hasn’t expanded prioritization beyond healthcare workers.
- While the CDC has recommendations for vaccine distribution, states are ultimately allowed to implement their own strategy.
- Individuals over the age of 65 in Rhode Island won’t have access to a COVID-19 vaccine until later this month.
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is moving along a lot faster in some states than others. Whereas some states — like Connecticut, for example — have administered more than 75% of their available vaccine supply, other states have only administered 53% of their COVID vaccine supply.
While this discrepancy can partially be attributed to logistics, the primary reason can be traced back to how certain states prioritize vaccine eligibility.
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According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — a group within the CDC — healthcare workers should be first in line to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Following that, the ACIP recommends that priority should be given to residents of long-term care facilities, frontline essential workers like teachers and firefighters, and individuals over the age of 75.
States, however, are free to implement their own rules, which is to say that the ACIP’s recommendation is just that — a recommendation. Texas, for example, made a point of prioritizing healthcare workers and individuals of any age with existing comorbidities. So while a 25-year-old with heart disease in Texas would be eligible for the COVID vaccine, that same individual wouldn’t be as lucky if he lived elsewhere.
One state that has been really slow to expand its COVID-19 vaccine rollout is Rhode Island. While every other state in the country has expanded vaccine eligibility beyond healthcare workers to include the elderly, Rhode Island remains a bizarre holdout.
The New York Times reports:
Whether the threshold is 65 or 80, people who meet their state’s age requirement are eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccination shot in every U.S. state but one.
The exception: Rhode Island, the only state still in the first phase of its vaccination campaign, which restricts access to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Officials say the slow rollout of the vaccine is because the state wants to ensure that individuals who are most at risk have access before moving onto other groups.
“In addition to how many people you vaccinate, who you vaccinate matters,” Rhode Island state health director Dr. Alexander-Scott told the Times. “And that’s what distinguishes Rhode Island, and how we are taking this thoughtful approach.”
Incidentally, some health experts and infectious disease experts have championed a completely different approach that would see the vaccine doled out on a first-come-first-serve basis. Especially with more contagious COVID mutations now in the US, the argument is that vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible is the only way to prevent additional outbreaks.
As it stands now, Rhode Island just recently started making the COVID-19 vaccine available to people over the age of 75. Looking ahead, individuals over 65 will be eligible to receive the vaccine by the end of the month.
Ideally, the COVID-19 vaccine supply will increase to such an extent that the current prioritization schedules become irrelevant. To that end, Pfizer recently said it will deliver 200 million vaccine doses to the US by May. Further, Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine may receive an EUA from the FDA within the next week or two.
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