As B117 COVID-19 Variant Becomes Dominant Strain, Reed & Whitehouse Emphasize Need for Masks, Vaccinations to Prevent Community Spread & Deliver $15.4 Million Boost in Supplemental Vaccine Funding for RI
EAST PROVIDENCE, RI – With a highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 (known as the ‘B117 variant’) in circulation, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse are encouraging Rhode Islanders to be vigilant against COVID-19 to help prevent community spread. The Senators say continued mask wearing, responsible social distancing, and vaccination efforts are key as Rhode Island seeks to crush COVID-19.
Today, Senators Reed and Whitehouse met with East Providence Mayor Roberto DaSilva and announced $15.4 million in new federal funds to expand local efforts to vaccinate Rhode Islanders. The federal funds can be used to bolster vaccine infrastructure and boost the state’s partnership with medical providers, community-based organizations, and health centers to ensure more people can be vaccinated in a timely manner.
The new funds are allocated to Rhode Island after Senators Reed and Whitehouse successfully worked to include a correction in the American Rescue Plan to ensure small states like Rhode Island received their fair share of federal funding for vaccine distribution. Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used a flawed formula that shortchanged small states on critical federal funding for vaccines.
To fairly allocate COVID-19 vaccine funding, Congress directed HHS to allocate federal aid to states, localities, and territories according to the formula that applied to the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement in fiscal year 2020 in determining the grant funding levels each state should receive. But Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 PHEP funding awards included non-formula components. Rather than using the traditional PHEP allocation method, Trump Administration officials based the supplemental allocations solely on the population component of the formula. As a result, this disproportionately impacted smaller and more rural states.
Senators Reed and Whitehouse, along with U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), pressed HHS and CDC to reconsider and reallocate funds as the law intended. They penned a joint letter, writing: “if HHS and CDC do not act to provide additional resources to support smaller states that were shortchanged by this round of grant funding, our communities will not be equipped to meet the challenge of vaccine administration during this deadly pandemic. For these reasons, we strongly encourage CDC to utilize additional discretionary funding at its disposal to provide more funding to our small states.”
While the Trump Administration did not take action before the change in Administrations, the Senators helped include bipartisan language in the recently enacted American Rescue Plan to ensure Rhode Island got its fair share of federal assistance for vaccines. The new funds are a result of both the American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
In addition to this $15.4 million installment of federal vaccination aid, Rhode Island also received $16.4 million in federal funding last month to boost local vaccination efforts, for a total of $31.8 million.
“Rhode Island is making real progress, but we can’t let our COVID-19 guard down yet. Wearing masks, social distancing, and getting the vaccine are all critically important. These vaccines are safe and effective and they are saving lives. I urge all Rhode Islanders to take the shot when it’s their turn because the vaccine offers our best shot at returning to a healthy community, society, and economy,” said Senator Reed. “Today we’re announcing a new $15.4 million booster shot to bolster Rhode Island’s vaccination efforts. The previous Administration interpreted the distribution formula in way that shortchanged Rhode Island and other small states. Senator Whitehouse and I were able to secure a legislative fix and a commitment from the Biden Administration to ensure Rhode Island got its fair share of vaccine funding. I know the state will put these funds to good use.”
“We’ve been through a bumpy flight but the landing field is in sight. We need to make sure we keep on course with masks, distancing, and vaccinations to help contain the virus before summer,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Senator Reed and I worked across the aisle to secure an additional $15.4 million to boost the state’s vaccination effort, making Rhode Island whole after the Trump administration short-changed small states.”
“East Providence is very fortunate to have the great leadership of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse working to secure federal funds to support our vaccination efforts here in the City,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “These funds are pertinent to the operation of our regional pod here in East Providence, which not only represents our City, the City of Pawtucket and the towns of Barrington, Bristol, Tiverton and Warren, but also provides vaccines to residents throughout the state.
“These funds will support everything from vaccine education and outreach to the day-to-day supplies needed to vaccinate our thousands of residents and we applaud our delegation on their diligence to fight for our residents,” DaSilva added.
Starting today, Rhode Island residents 40 and older are eligible to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments. The state is also opening up eligibility to everyone 16 and older in the following ZIP codes: 02910 and 02920 in Cranston; 02914 in East Providence; 02919 in Johnston; 02906 in Providence; 02911 in North Providence; and 02893 in West Warwick. This comes in addition to several zip codes where eligibility was already to expanded to all residents16 and older in in Providence, Cranston, North Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls (02860, 02861, 02863, 02904, 02905, 02907, 02908, and 02909).
Next Monday, April 9, all Rhode Islanders aged 16 and up are slated to become eligible for vaccination appointments.
As of Friday, April 9, there have been 659,529 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered across Rhode Island, with 281,056 individuals in Rhode Island being fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccine appointments for the East Providence vaccine clinic or other local sites are available at: https://www.vaccinateri.org/