With COVID-19 still raging across the world, Rhode Island has reached a 95% one-dose vaccination rate, currently making it tied for the state with the highest percentage of residents partially vaccinated. Public health experts say the achievement demonstrates Rhode Islanders’ commitment to softening the effects of the pandemic on their communities.
Philip Chan, RIDOH consultant medical director and associate professor of medicine at the University, commended Rhode Island for its high vaccination rate.
“I want people to realize that Rhode Island has the highest vaccination rate in the country, so this is obviously a success story,” Chan said.
In his role within RIDOH, Chan said he has witnessed firsthand the intense cooperation and teamwork that increasing vaccination rates requires. He credited the state’s notable public health achievement to the Rhode Island community at large.
“It really has been partnerships across the state, from the Department of Health, the governor's office, (the) Department of Education and numerous other state agencies,” Chan said. “Really, it’s been a huge cooperation across the state, including the people who are … getting vaccinated and listening to sound public health guidance.”
Chan said the many initiatives RIDOH has undertaken over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce transmission, support communities and increase the accessibility of health resources for all Rhode Island residents reflect this sound guidance.
“We focus a lot on what we’ve done here specifically in terms of making ourselves available to a lot of outreach and education community forums,” Chan said. “We’ve done popular vaccination clinics at schools and other community settings, and we’ve tried to meet people where they’re at and make everything as accessible as possible.”
Patricia Risica, director of undergraduate studies for the School of Public Health, echoed Chan’s celebratory sentiment, praising Rhode Islanders and their willingness to do what’s best for the health of their communities.
“I think it's an amazing start. It’s so important that 95% of our population are willing and able to get at least one vaccine shot,” Risica said. “I think it's important because attitude matters, and a person's willingness is a key part of improving” public health conditions.
Despite Rhode Island’s high vaccination rate, Risica said that precautions are still necessary to ensure the general safety of everyone statewide.
“If we're still having a (COVID-19) positivity rate above a certain threshold, then we must continue testing,” Risica said.
Risica noted the dangers of the community relaxing precautions in light of lower COVID-19 rates.
“Improving doesn't necessarily mean conditions are good,” she added. “You can go from a D grade to a C grade. That's an improvement, but that doesn't mean a C is a great grade.”
Emma Beier ’24 said she feels hopeful for the future after Rhode Island’s milestone, especially coming from her home state of Illinois, which has a lower vaccination rate.
“I think Rhode Island’s 95% partial vaccination rate is amazing and super exciting to see,” Beier said. “I am from Chicago, and our partial vaccination rate is less than Rhode Island’s, and the climate in Chicago regarding COVID certainly reflects this reality. Walking around Chicago, you can feel the tension and anxiety about COVID.”
While Rhode Island’s 95% one-dose vaccination rate is an admirable feat, Chan said, there is still more work to be done.
Chan said that although Rhode Island has excelled in administering the first dose of the vaccination, there is room for improvement in increasing second dose vaccination and booster rates.
“Even though we're at 95%, that's talking about receiving the initial doses of the vaccine,” Chan said. “And I think that’s one area where we still need to do more work. One key message is that people really need to stay up to date on their vaccinations, and that means getting a booster shot if you're eligible.”
Chan noted that only about 38% of Rhode Island residents have received a booster shot, considerably lower than the number of people who received the first dose of the vaccine. “People really need a booster shot to get the full protection from these vaccines and prevent severe disease,” Chan said.
“We really can see that one shot just is not enough protection,” Risica said. “It's really important that people understand that.” Risica also emphasized that Rhode Islanders must have easy access to second vaccine doses and booster shots.
Risica said she is proud of both the Providence and University communities for doing their part in achieving this landmark goal.
“The 95% mark means that Brown is situated within a community where vaccination is valued, and that is really huge for Brown as an institution and for all of us who live in and around the Brown community,” she said. “We are very lucky to be around people, mostly students, faculty and staff, who really value vaccination. I think that that's a very positive thing for our community.”
“I want to congratulate Brown students for being on board with all of this,” Risica said. “It's not easy, but I really congratulate the students for participating and valuing not only their health, but the health of other people in the community, because that's what (getting vaccinated) really shows.”