University provides update on vaccinations

This is sent on behalf of URI Health Services, the Office of Emergency Management, and the URI COVID-19 Task Force.

With the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, the University is pleased with the arrival of the vaccines in Rhode Island and the eventual distribution to all segments of the population.

News stories describing the inoculation of health care workers and first responders have prompted many in the University community to ask questions about when and how they will be able to receive the vaccine.

The University has been working closely with the State of Rhode Island on vaccine plans as well as other aspects of the COVID-19 response that include testing, contact tracing, and quarantine/isolation. Many details of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan are still being worked out. Thus far only Phase 1 of the vaccine program has been made public.

Most of the University’s Health Services team, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Management personnel, and University Police, as well as Kingston Fire Department personnel, have received their first doses of the vaccine as part of Phase 1A. Clinical students with patient care responsibilities have been prioritized as well and will begin to receive vaccines this week.  As the vaccine program advances to new phases in the weeks and months ahead, the state will make vaccines available to URI students, faculty and staff.

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions received by the URI COVID-19 Task Force regarding the vaccine program.

Who decides when people get the vaccine?

Because the state’s initial supply of vaccine is limited, the governor has established a Vaccine Advisory Committee. Professor Kerry LaPlante from URI’s College of Pharmacy is a member, and that group is working with the Rhode Island Department of Health to prioritize various groups for vaccination as doses arrive from the federal government. As more vaccine arrives in the state, vaccinations will next be offered to those beyond the initial groups, which would include those with other risk factors such as age or underlying health conditions. Individuals’ places of residence and occupations will also be considered as part of the state’s commitment to access and equity.  

Does the University have a supply of vaccine?

The University of Rhode Island does not have any doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Rhode Island’s vaccine inventory is strictly managed and controlled by the Rhode Island Department of Health and its contractor, The Wellness Company. When a local vaccine “Point of Dispensing” site is operating, a precise number of doses are delivered to the site for that day’s operations, and the contractor returns to collect any unused vaccine at the end of the day. No vaccine has been specifically allocated for the University of Rhode Island as of now.

How and when will students be vaccinated?

We do not yet know when the vaccine will be available for higher education students in Rhode Island, though we anticipate it will be sometime this spring. The state’s current expectation is that once the vaccine is available for students, URI will run a dispensing site on our Kingston Campus that will administer the vaccine to our students. University leadership and the COVID-19 Task Force are working actively with the Rhode Island Department of Health to plan this operation so we will be ready as soon as the doses are available to us. In the meantime, students working in clinical health care settings as part of their  educational requirements will receive the vaccine sooner.

How and when will employees be vaccinated?

Our current understanding from the state is that most URI employees will receive their vaccinations in their home communities. As with the general population, the state will prioritize those who are older than 65 and those with underlying health conditions or other risk factors. We do not anticipate that the state will allow us to administer vaccines to our employees through the University’s “Point of Dispensing” site when it opens. However, some limited groups of employees who the Vaccine Advisory Committee considers to be in high-risk jobs may be vaccinated sooner at special dispensing sites.

Is the vaccine safe?

The federal government has been working since the start of the pandemic to make a COVID-19 vaccine available as soon as possible. This accelerated timeline is unprecedented and has raised concerns for some people that safety may be sacrificed in favor of speed. However, as with all vaccines, safety is a top priority. No steps involving safety have been skipped—COVID-19 vaccines are subject to the same standards as other vaccines to make sure they are safe.  COVID-19 vaccines have been tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. Many people were recruited to participate in these trials to see how the vaccines offer protection to people of different ages, races, and ethnicities, as well as those with different medical conditions. In addition, Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee, made up of of epidemiologists, primary care providers, pharmacists, pediatricians, long-term care advocates, ethicists, nonprofit leaders, school leaders, faith leaders, and others, conducted an independent review of the process for evaluating the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. URI Professor of Pharmacy Kerry LaPlante is a member of the subcommittee.

Can I get sick from the vaccine?

None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19. However, vaccines can cause your immune system to respond. This is a sign that the vaccine—and your body’s immune system—is working. Based on information released about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, we expect people to have symptoms after vaccination. People may feel some soreness at the site of injection, some aches, and fatigue. These symptoms may be more noticeable than those that occur with a flu vaccine. This is completely normal and will clear up in a few days.  

Note that it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity (protection against the virus that causes COVID-19) after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.

Is the vaccine mandatory for URI students, faculty, and staff?

All members of the URI community are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to do so. However, as of now, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory for members of the URI community.

Where can I get more information about the vaccine?

The University will continue to share pertinent information about the state’s vaccine program and any URI-based dispensing operations as it becomes available. In the meantime, a wealth of information can be found at the Rhode Island Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control