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Many ‘just sick of having to wait’ for vaccine as prioritization, rollout delays stand in the way

  • Sylvia Dow, executive director of Visions for Creative Housing Solutions in Enfield, is happy to hear the residents at the facility are in the queue to be vaccinated in the next couple of weeks. Geoff Hansen / Valley News

Valley News
Published: 1/8/2021 4:15:00 PM
Modified: 1/8/2021 4:14:45 PM

Melissa Herman, who teaches in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, took to the Upper Valley (VT/NH) Facebook page to ask a question on Monday.

“Does anyone know when/how the general public will get COVID vaccine shots?” she wrote.

It’s a question many residents across the Upper Valley are wondering.

Herman, a Hanover resident who is 53 and in “good health,” said in a phone interview on Wednesday that she understands there are people in line for the vaccine before her, but she asked the question because she is anxious to return to a more normal life, such as hosting her 78-year-old mother-in-law for a visit or returning from helping a son move in New York without having to quarantine away from the rest of her family upon her return.

“My anxiety is probably on par with everybody,” she said. “I’m just sick of having to wait.”

Approximately 33,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, or 2.44 per 100 people, had been given out in New Hampshire as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a tracker by Bloomberg News. Vermont had given out 19,000 doses or 3 per 100 people, according to the tracker.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu offered an approximate timeline for when Granite Staters would be eligible for the vaccine at a news conference on Tuesday. According to a summary posted to the Department of Health and Human Services website, due to her age falling within the 50-65 range and lack of underlying medical conditions, Herman would be vaccinated as part of Phase 2b, which includes about 200,000 people slated to get their shots sometime between March and May.

That puts her behind Phase 1a, which includes about 110,000 frontline health care workers, nursing home residents and first responders for whom vaccinations began last month, as well as two other tiers. Phase 1b, slated to be completed by the end of March, would include roughly 225,000 people over age of 75; the medically vulnerable with two or more underlying conditions from a list created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; residents and workers at facilities for people with developmental disabilities; workers at correctional facilities; and other first responders and health care workers.

Next up would be about 175,000 people between 65 and 75, as well as teachers and child care providers, or Phase 2a, who would get the vaccine starting in March. Phase 3a, slated to begin in May, after Herman’s age group, will include 325,000 under age 50 with one or more underlying medical conditions from the CDC’s list. The last group includes the remaining 325,000 Granite Staters.

Sylvia Dow rolled up her sleeve and received her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at the National Guard building on Heater Road on Tuesday. The site is one of 13 fixed sites where health care workers not affiliated with hospitals or nursing homes, and first responders are being vaccinated. Elsewhere in the Upper Valley, the National Guard also is operating a site at River Valley Community College’s Claremont campus.

Dow, the executive director of Visions for Creative Housing Solutions, and other members of her staff, who work with adults with developmental disabilities at the Enfield residential facility including one who has tested positive for COVID-19, have stepped up to get the vaccine this week. The 11 residents of the Enfield residential facility Dow runs are not part of that very first group, but as of Tuesday they are now listed as part of the next group Phase 1b.

“I’m just so happy,” said Dow, who had advocated for moving those with developmental disabilities up from Phase 2b, where she said they had previously been grouped.

Dow said that in addition to having developmental disabilities, Visions’ residents also have a range of medical conditions that could put them at higher risk of developing serious symptoms should they contract COVID-19 such as diabetes and heart conditions, which are both on the CDC’s list. As of Tuesday, one resident and three workers at Visions had contracted the virus; as a result other residents were prevented from returning after holiday visits with family, Dow said.

While the infected resident has had minor symptoms, one of the workers is more seriously ill with a fever, Dow said.

In spite of the infections at her facility and the ongoing pandemic, Dow said the community support which she credits with helping to move up people with developmental disabilities in the vaccine line has given her “some optimism” for the future.

Aside from a sore arm, Dow said she had no side effects from the first dose of the Moderna vaccine that she received on Tuesday.

“I feel great,” she said.

Nenia Corcoran, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Upper Valley Public Health network, said she is working closely with the National Guard to get vaccines into the arms of people in New Hampshire in Phase 1a such as school nurses, other health care workers not employed by hospitals or nursing homes, as well as first responders. In addition, the public health network is involved in helping to set up points of dispensing locations such as a clinic at the Lebanon fire station at which the network oversaw the vaccination of 100 first responders, Corcoran said.

As the state gets allocated more vaccine doses and more people become eligible to get it, Corcoran said the fixed sites around the state will remain in place, mobile clinics will be set up as needed and doctor’s offices will eventually participate in giving out vaccines.

Because plans are still in flux, Corcoran asked that people not call their doctors to find out when they might get the vaccine and instead to visit the state’s website for more information: nh.gov/covid19/resources-guidance/vaccination-planning.htm.

She said that the federal vaccine allocations are being given out based on where people live, not where they get medical care.

“In general, you should look to the state that you live in for the vaccine,” she said in a phone interview.

While there have been some bumps in the road as people adjust to what she described as a “clunky” and “challenging” information system that people use to sign up for vaccines through the fixed sites, Corcoran said she thinks those involved in the distribution are “getting over that learning curve.”

Corcoran said the public health networks are prepared to serve as a “backup plan” for the pharmacies distributing vaccines to long-term care facilities which for the most part are getting vaccines through a federal contract with national pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens.

The vaccine rollout in long-term care facilities has been slower than health care fficials would like, given that about 80% of the state’s 816 deaths have occurred there, said Brendan Williams, CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association.

“Vaccines cannot come soon enough, really,” he said.

Williams said he expects the first round of nursing home vaccinations will be completed next week. He said he would like to see more of a federal information campaign to get information out about vaccines, which he said might be necessary to increase the numbers of health care workers who have agreed to get the vaccine. He estimated between one-quarter and one-third of the workers at long-term care facilities in New Hampshire have so far opted out of receiving the vaccine.

Williams said he is concerned that the slow rollout of the vaccines in nursing homes may be an “ill harbinger of what we might expect with the general public.”

For her part, Herman, the Hanover resident, said she will be ready and waiting when her health care providers let her know it’s her turn to roll up her sleeve. “They’ll let us know when the time comes,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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