Rhode Island opens vaccine eligibility Tuesday to residents 16 and older in eight hard-hit zip codes around the state.

These residents -- in zip codes 02904, 02905, 02907, 02908, 02909, 02860, 02861 and 02863 -- live in parts of Providence, Cranston, North Providence and all of Pawtucket and Central Falls. 

They are now eligible to register for vaccination appointments at state-run clinics and participating pharmacy locations. (Register online at vaccinateRI.org . If you cannot register online call 844-930-1779.) Municipal clinics in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls have already opened up their vaccine clinics to residents in all age groups.

During the next two weeks, state health officials plan to target vaccines to residents in a second tier of ZIP codes, Health Department consultant Sheena Gordon said Tuesday during a COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee meeting. The “tier 2” ZIP codes include communities not yet targeted -- West Warwick, Woonsocket and Johnston -- as well parts of Pawtucket, Providence, North Providence, East Providence.

Health officials identify these priority groups based on rates of infection, hospitalization and death, as well as housing density, income, race and ethnicity.

State health officials are working with the pharmacies at CVS, Walgreens and Walmart about reserving slots for residents in high-density and communities of color, Health Department consultant Sheena Gordon said Tuesday during a meeting of the R.I. COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee. 

The short-term goal is to vaccinate roughly 40% of the high-density and communities of color, Gordon said, since that approximates the hospitalization rates in those communities. Long-term, she said, the goal is to immunize 70% to 80% of those communities to reach herd immunity.

Vaccination demand continues to exceed supply but health officials said everyone will be able to get an appointment, just not right away. 

“We are very confident that most people will be able to get an appointment within a week or two of when they become eligible,’’  Tricia Washburn, the state Health Department’s chief of the office of immunization, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Rhode Island’s vaccine supply is expected to increase by early to mid-June to about 100,000 doses a week, said Tom McCarthy, the Health Department’s executive director of COVID Response. By the end of June or early July, he said, the state will probably see vaccine “supply exceeding demand.”

State health officials are planning to launch a new online tool that allows residents to search for vaccination appointments by address, ZIP code and vaccine type, said Alysia Mihalakos, the department’s chief of emergency preparedness and response. The new tool will be posted on vaccinateRI.org.

The decision to expand eligibility for residents 16 and older in Rhode Island’s eight hard-hit ZIP codes is based on data showing that residents in those communities have roughly 3.5 times higher rates of hospitalizations for COVID-19 than the rest of the state, Gov. Dan McKee and state health officials said in a statement announcing the expansion Monday night. And for residents age 50 and older in those communities have higher hospitalization rates than people age 70 and older statewide. 

People of color in these ZIP codes also have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, health officials said, with hospitalization rates among Latino residents 4.6 times higher than among white, non-Hispanic residents, after adjusting for age. Similarly, the age-adjusted hospitalization rate among Black residents is 2.6 times higher.

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org