In Your Neighborhood

A little jab will do you

A journey to the center of Olneyville to promote flu shots during a time of pandemic

Photo by Richard Asinof

As Gov. Dan McKee looks on, pharmacist Peter Solomon administers a flu shot to Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, at Anthony's Pharmacy on Manton Avenue in Olneyville.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/18/21
Gov. McKee and Lt. Gov. Matos visited Anthony’s Pharmacy in Olneyville to promote the importance of getting a flu shot this year, perhaps made even more critical given the continuing contagion of the COVID pandemic.
Will the continued success of Rhode Islanders in becoming fully vaccinated quiet the opposition to the vaccine requirements at health facilities and at businesses? What are the long-term impacts of COVID on children and adults? Is learning loss a real thing, or is it a corporate invention of consulting groups such as McKinsey to push their own agenda of privatization of public schools? Will Gov. McKee commit funds to build the proposed public health laboratory in Rhode Island?
Every day, it seems, there is a new stop along the never-ending public relations tour by the Governor and the Lt. Governor, always with the news media in tow, providing specific, positive messaging. Location is everything. It is hard to argue with getting a flu shot at a local drug store; it is also hard to argue with sharing plans about the state's campaign to vaccinate 5-11 year old children in Rhode Island at a children’s museum.
After six months of asking diligently and persistently, ConvergenceRI will get a modified request for a one-on-one with Gov. McKee, a 15-minute phone call. Stay tuned.

PROVIDENCE – On Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 13, along a main artery in the heart of Olneyville, the scene at local corner drug store at 219 Manton Ave.  resembled a busy bee hive in early fall, with lots of buzzing on the street outside, amidst a steady, constant flow of car and pedestrian traffic.

This was the location of the latest stop by Gov. Dan McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos on their public relations/health awareness tour of local pharmacies, this time journeying to Anthony’s Pharmacy, in order to promote the importance of getting an annual flu shot, surrounded by a small phalanx of news media eager to capture the moment of the jab.

Outside of the pharmacy, as ConvergenceRI walked slowly, carefully, cautiously on the sidewalk toward the drug store’s entrance, supported by trekking poles [made necessary by a health condition that it is making it difficult to walk], a man in a parked van rolled down his window and asked, in a good-natured tone of voice: “Where are your skis?” Where’s the snow?” The driver then laughed and drove off, giving a thumbs-up sign. Such is life on the streets in Rhode Island for the uniquely abled.

A small group of the usual suspects of TV cameras and news reporters had already gathered inside Anthony’s Pharmacy, awaiting the arrival of the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and director of the R.I. Department of Health, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.

It turned out that Gov. McKee had already gotten his flu shot, but Lt. Gov. Matos, along with her top communications aide, Billy Kepner, did receive their flu shots – along with ConvergenceRI, the only media person who volunteered to receive the flu shot. Pharmacist Peter Solomon deftly administered all three shots while the cameras and phones rolled. [See link bellow.]

On a day when Helena Foulkes, the former CVS top executive, announced in a video feed disseminated on social media that she was indeed running for Governor in 2022, a local independent pharmacy seemed to be an apt location for the Governor to carry his message to the neighborhoods of Providence about the importance of getting a flu shot, particularly during this time of continued contagion from the COVID pandemic.

You can get almost anything you want…
It may not be quite like the song refrain of “Alice’s Restaurant” of Arlo Guthrie fame, but to many of the residents of Olneyville, Anthony’s Pharmacy is the happening place where you can get almost everything you need – from prescriptions filled to flu shots to COVID vaccines, beer and wine, notary public services, and even checks cashed.

And, as she awaited the arrival of Dr. Alexander-Scott, Lt. Gov. Matos shared a memory about how she used to come to Anthony’s Pharmacy to cash her work paycheck, before she had a checking account. A sense of neighborhood prevailed.

The Governor, the Lt. Governor, and Dr. Alexander-Scott stayed on message – and the reporters were, for the most part, adept at asking good questions: WPRO’s Steve Klamkin asked about the pharmacy location and its family connection to the Solomon family, steeped in Democratic politics and the pharmacy profession; WJAR Channel 10’s Barbara Morse asked about the importance of a flu shot to prevent potential complications with COVID infections and to reduce the strain on the health care delivery system; and Motif’s Michael Bilow asked about specifics around the different kinds of flu shots available, particularly for those over 65.

The importance of getting a flu shot was stressed, in particular to keep people, “family members and loved ones,” out of emergency rooms, given that most hospitals are reporting that they are stressed with an increased volume of cases as a result of the delta variant of COVID.

Planned disruption
After the event, Paul Rianna, unmasked, in a white t-shirt and jeans, who has been coordinating a series of protests by alleged “health care workers” against the vaccine mandate, showed up outside of Anthony’s Pharmacy as the flu shot show-and-tell was ending, saying that he lived nearby, and claiming that he had no intention of disrupting the event. “Really?” as WPRO’s Steve Klamkin is wont to say.

And, predictably, as Gov. McKee was leaving, after doing an interview outside with NBC 10’s Barbara Morse, Rianna attempted to engage, if that is the right word, with the Governor, demanding a town hall meeting to discuss the vaccine mandate, shouting at him: “This is why the protests will keep happening,” clapping his hands repeatedly as a kind of punctuation mark, his performance captured with apparent delight by a smiling John DePetro, who was dressed in shorts, also unmasked. The Governor appeared to be unruffled. [The moment of not Zen was captured on video and posted on Twitter by WPRO’s Steve Klamkin.]

More to come
The next day, on Thursday, Oct. 14, Gov. McKee used the setting of the Providence Children’s Museum to give his weekly COVID-19 update – as well as to preview the state’s vaccination strategy for children ages 5-11, given the pending announcement of an OK by federal authorities to begin to administer such vaccinations for that age group expected in the next few weeks. [The Governor’s advance team gets top grades for choosing locations; the medium is the message.]

At the event, Dr. Alexander Scott announced that there were about 80,000 children in Rhode Island between the ages of 5-11, and that 95 percent of health care workers in licensed facilities in Rhode Island were now vaccinated, according to reporting by WPRO’s Steve Klamkin.

“Pediatricians and family physicians recommend the COVID vaccine to all eligible children,” said Dr. Elizabeth “Beth” Lange, M.D., as quoted in the news release following the event. “Right now, that means children ages 12 to 18, but once the FDA delivers their final decision, we look forward to vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 as well.” [Lange was featured in an in-depth interview in ConvergenceRI last week; see link below to story, “When a woman pediatrician leads the R.I. Medical Society.”]

And, yes, right on cue, a small group of maybe a dozen or so anti-vaxxers rallied outside the Chlldren’s Museum as Gov. McKee spoke, including Rianna. Their moment appears to be waning, in ConvergenceRI's opinion.

Flu shot details
The flu shot delivered by pharmacist Peter Solomon to ConvergenceRI was manufactured by Sanofi; it was the most potent shot available – known as the Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent, indicated for adults and older residents in the U.S. and Canada, to protect against both the A and B flu viruses.

On Oct. 7, Sanofi released interim results from a study that demonstrated that the administration of the Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine with Moderna’s COVID-19 mRNA vaccine showed that the administration of the vaccines at the same visit had similar immunogenicity responses and a similar safety and tolerability profile compared to each vaccine administered individually.

Sanofi also manufacturers Flublok vaccines, having acquired Protein Sciences Corporation in 2017, which uses a recombinant technology.

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