Rhode Island panel approves use of J&J vaccine in state

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Rhode Island COVID-19 vaccine subcommittee on Wednesday unanimously approved the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine in the state.

The vaccine was granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration last weekend, after an advisory panel to the FDA unanimously endorsed the vaccine.

The state has placed an initial order for more than 9,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the shipment is expected later this week, according to the state Department of Health.

The 19-member subcommittee includes multiple medical professionals as well as ethicists, nonprofit leaders, educators and faith leaders.

Gov. Daniel McKee, on his first full day on the job, joined the virtual meeting and reiterated his commitment to quickly getting teachers and school support staff vaccinated so more schools can safely open for in-person learning.

“We need to make sure that’s a top priority,” the Democrat said.

Almost 200,000 people in the state have received a first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, while nearly 80,000 people have been fully vaccinated, the department said Wednesday.

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COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

McKee on Wednesday signed his first executive order, directing the state Department of Health to better engage cities and towns in expanding efforts to vaccinate Rhode Island’s population.

It also seeks to reduce what he called “vaccine hesitancy” by directing the department to update its communications and outreach plan.

Finally, the order encourages state and municipal employees to receive the vaccine when they become eligible and urges them to become advocates to increase vaccination participation.

“As a state, we must do everything we can to overcome vaccine hesitancy and build trust with Rhode Islanders of every background from every community,” he said in a statement. “That’s why my administration is committed to engaging all 39 cities and towns to spread the word that these vaccines are safe and will save lives.”

___ MORE U.K. VARIANT FOUND

Four new cases of the so-called U.K. variant of COVID-19 have been identified in Rhode Island, the state Department of Health said Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to seven.

The strain, which is more contagious than the predominant variety of COVID-19, has been spreading across the country since first being discovered in the United Kingdom. The first three Rhode Island cases were identified two weeks ago.

The new cases were identified in Providence and Newport counties, the health department said. No further information was disclosed.

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HEALTH DEPARTMENT NUMBERS

Rhode Island has more than 400 new confirmed coronavirus cases and nine more state residents have died of the disease, the state Department of Health said Wednesday.

Of the new cases, 376 were people who tested positive on Tuesday, and 60 were people who tested positive on previous days.

There have now been more than 127,000 confirmed cases and 2,534 deaths in the state.

The number of hospitalizations was down to 147 as of Monday, from 161 the previous day.

The latest seven-day average positivity rate in Rhode Island is 2.17%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Rhode Island, the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has gone from about 377 on Feb. 16 to about 370 on Tuesday, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

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