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Staff members of the COVID vaccination clinic at the former South Road Elementary School in South Kingstown talk after the clinic closed for the day on Jan. 30.

COVID-19 vaccinations for those 75 years and older are continuing in South County at the South Road Elementary School, but hampered by having fewer doses than needed for this population of residents.

For instance, North Kingstown has 3,000 residents in this category. It received only 130 doses to cover vaccinations given last Sunday and a few days later on Wednesday for this group, said Town Manager Ralph Mollis.  

In Narragansett, 2,000 residents fit in this population. It received only 80 doses to cover vaccinations in that same time period. South Kingstown has about 2,900 residents 75 years and older and received only 150 doses, town officials reported.  

Area town managers also said that their staffs are working with various lists to determine who meets the criteria to be called to gauge interest in receiving the current two-dose shot in the arm.

However, they already know that they’ll need more to vaccinate all those eligible, the said.

At least one town manager, though, does not want the current town responsibility to continue beyond serving this age group. He supports having wider distribution networks, announced this week in Washington, that would augment or replace the towns.

“This won’t work the way we are doing right now,” said Robert Zarnetske, town manager in South Kingstown. “This is not feasible, it’s not scalable,” he added.

Mollis said that local municipal leaders had a conference call Monday with incoming Governor Daniel McKee and other state officials involved in vaccination planning.

While towns and cities will have a role in the plans, Mollis said, “It is projected that our role will be as a supplemental chain for targeted populations, such as 75 and older, but that remains to be seen. “

He added, his town is “prepared to handle whatever role necessary to insure the vaccination of all residents of North Kingstown who wish to be vaccinated.  It’s all pending receiving doses from the Department of Health.”

In South County, area town managers reported that in the short-run they want more doses so that they can quickly sign-up those 75 and older. It is considered among the most vulnerable for serious complications for this sometimes fatal disease.

Current plans, though, still call for short supplies, Mollis noted. “We have been told to expect a second batch on or before February 15.  We anticipate that this second batch will also be extremely limited and under 200 doses. “

Narragansett, according to Town Manager James Tierney, is expecting about 110 doses in the second round expected mid-February. South Kingstown officials don’t expect a large increase over the 150 received last week.

The vaccine is administered at different sites around the state in a regional design. Each city or town is not holding its own vaccination clinics. In the local region South Road Elementary School in South Kingstown is a designated site for both COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

However, the larger issue looming in front of them is the management of the vaccine to larger numbers of people as state guidelines permit more people in different age groups.

“It’s my hope that you soon have several clinics, drug stores other places offering the vaccine and that towns are removed from the screening process,” Zarnetske said.

Big pharmaceutical retailers, like CVS and Walgreens, as well as big-box retailer Walmart, are on deck to handle the vaccinations of millions of Americans daily when the roll out reaches larger populations and more vaccine doses are available.  

With varying eligibility requirements state by state and short nationwide supplies, some states are already beginning to make them more available to their residents. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aims to have them in local pharmacies beginning next month. There is no cost to receive the vaccine.

However, the job of vaccinating large swaths of the population will fall largely on large retail pharmacies, according to federal officials.

Both the national and state roll out have been criticized for failing to have more defined approach that gets more people vaccinated and quickly.

In Rhode Island, right now, towns and cities design their own processes for administering to the 75 years and older age group. An added confusion, Zarnetske pointed out, is that the state announced plans for 65 years and older residents, but they are not yet eligible.

“We should not have muddied the waters about who will soon be eligible,” he added

With these state-provided small doses last week, state officials told towns to figure out who specifically gets the shots and sign them up. This led to confusion in a number of municipalities because they didn’t have a system designed for it.

So, city and town administrators need to first develop screening lists that were accurate. Town staff or representatives then had to call people to determine whether they already had the vaccine or want it and then make an appointment if enough supply is available.

State Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken said, “The State and municipalities have the same goal: to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, especially older adults who are at greater risk for severe COVID illness.”

“We will use insights from this very limited pilot in our planning for the broader, population-wide vaccination program for older adults in February,” Wendelken said.

He also said that the state will work with municipal partners on this planning and the state is “optimistic” that distribution will become less complicated as vaccine supplies increase in the near future.

In this current phase, local towns are using their websites for announcements and updates as well as press releases sent to partner organizations to help notify eligible residents.

For instance, the Town of Narragansett is using emergency alert notification system – CodeRED – to collect updated contact information on residents looking to receive future notifications on how to register for the COVID-19 vaccination.

Its website (https://www.narragansettri.gov/) notes that all residents are encouraged to sign up for CodeRED for these and other notifications. The sign-up link is on the town website.

“This process is intended to provide the town a more efficient mechanism for the collection of contact data for the purpose of broadcasting future COVID-19 vaccination information to eligible residents as more vaccine becomes available,” town officials relay on the website.

As vaccine does become available – eligible residents will be contacted via CodeRED and provided the information and link on how and where to register for the vaccine, it said.

South Kingstown officials report they are now confirming telephone contact information for residents 75 and older.

“Any resident in this age category, who has not already confirmed a contact phone number with the Town, can call the senior Center at 401-789-0268. Staff will be answering calls as quickly as possible and the public is asked for their patience,” its website (southkingstownri.com) said.

Callers may leave a voice message with their name, address, date of birth and phone number; and this information will be confirmed with a return call. Those not in that age category are asked to call only when state public notices say they are eligible.

North Kingstown has set up a hotline and registration process. The number is 401-294-3331, ext. 405.

Information about the process is also on its website (northkingstown.org) and social media sites. Town Manager Mollis said the site will be updated as vaccination plans develop so that people can register for future vaccine appointments.

Bill Seymour is a freelance writer covering news and personality feature stories in Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. He can be reached at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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