Some surprise in Burrillville as vaccine appointments remain open

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BURRILLVILLE – Three days after links for registration to receive the COVID-19 vaccine went live, many appointments remain open for town residents age 75 and older, despite the fact that there are far more who qualify to receive the shot than doses available through the municipality.

Town Manager Michael Wood estimated that as of Friday, around 100 appointments for the two dates in March remained open. Registration via an online portal for dates for four consecutive weeks beginning Saturday, Feb. 20 went live on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Appointments for the first two dates in February – where volunteers administer 120 doses at each clinic to town residents – filled up quickly. Town officials will be given 480 doses total to distribute to the population of roughly 1,500 Burrillville residents over the age of 75.

Those who called town staff for help with the registration process have also all been scheduled.

“I think people have other options, and they’re taking the other options,” said Wood, noting that some in town may have received a vaccination through their doctor or a local pharmacy, or have an appointment at one of the recently-launched statewide clinics. “I am surprised to some degree, but it’s two weeks away. People still have time to sign up.”

Others, Wood noted, may be skeptical of the vaccine.

“If they don’t want to do it, that’s their choice,” he said.

The town manager said that in the upcoming weeks, efforts will be made to reach Burrillville’s older shut ins, following state guidance.

“We’re going to be doing some additional outreach to the community,” he said.

While the town awaits further instruction from the state, officials are creating a list of the names of shut-ins for future outreach. Anyone who knows of a Burrillville resident in this category is asked to call (401) 710-7800.

Wood said he’s spoken to the leaders of other Rhode Island cities and towns to discuss their vaccination programs.

“Some have a lot of people who haven’t signed up, like us, and others have a lot who want them,” he said.

Wood pointed out that the state provides specific guidance on how the town’s allotment must be administered – and local officials are not yet authorized to make appointments for those in lower age brackets.

“The state is sticking pretty tightly to the decision to vaccinate certain populations,” Wood said.

State officials have announced that they plan to open eight regional clinics across Rhode Island, which Wood noted may be an indication that going forward, vaccination efforts will be focused on the regional pods, rather than the municipal level, where staffing is limited.

“I think they’re going to handle the lion’s share of vaccinations at the regional facilities,” Wood said.

That’s ultimately a good thing for the towns, where clinics must been run by volunteers.

Appointments at regional clinics in Providence and Cranston opened this week, and starting Monday, Feb. 22, they also opened those age 65 and up. Reservations can be made at https://www.vaccinateri.org/.

Local pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS also began offering vaccines to Rhode Islanders age 65 and older on Monday.

In Burrillville, Wood noted that there are roughly 2,000 people in that age bracket.

“We’re not even sure how we can handle that load,” he said, noting that that’s just a small portion of the population. “If we had to extend this out six months or so that would be pretty difficult.”

Wood said he has no information regarding what percent of the population has already been vaccinated.

“We don’t know what’s happened in the other venues,” he said, pointing to sources such as Well One. “I think the very idea that they’re not signing up means they’ve either been taken care of, or they don’t have an interest in doing it.”

Still, with the first round of vaccines open to anyone who falls under Phase I of the state’s vaccination plan – including public safety and other health officials – Wood said he expects that all of the town’s supply will be administered.

“I think eventually, they’ll be filled,” he said of the appointments.

In Burrillville, the process officially began on Saturday at Burrillville Middle School, thanks to help from around 45 town volunteers.

“It’s a nice thing to see,” Wood said. “It’s all volunteers helping the community.”

Some of that volunteer staff was at the middle school Friday, Feb. 19, readying the space for Saturday’s clinic, along with BMS custodians.

At the clinics, staff greets those who registered in advance in the parking lot of the school and show them where to enter the building, with patients asked to stay in their vehicles until no more than 15 minutes before their appointment time to limit traffic inside.

Only 30 appointments have been scheduled at a time with the intent to keep the effort organized and efficient.

“They should be in the building for a total of 30 to 45 minutes,” said Lisa Rabideau, administrative assistant to Burrillville Police Col. Stephen Lynch.

Some wheelchairs are available for those who need them as they make their way into the school gymnasium, as well as chairs to sit in if they need a break while waiting in line. Temperatures are taken at the door, and after patients are registered, they visit with one of three registered nurses to receive the Moderna vaccine. Both a doctor and pharmacist are available on site.

Those who receive the shot are monitored for 15 minutes after the dose for adverse effects, and then signed up for their second dose in exactly one month.

Editor’s note: As of Monday, Feb. 22, all but the final clinic in March have been filled.

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