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Those 65+ can register for vaccine appointments next week after state changes course

  • State workers unpack the first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to New Hampshire.

  • Dunbarton school nurse Emily Kotkowski gets her COVID vaccine from Master Sgt. John McDowell from the Air National Guard at the old Sears Auto Center at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Wednesday, December 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 1/14/2021 4:21:38 PM

For months, a panel of New Hampshire’s foremost doctors, public health scientists, nurses, and state officials debated and developing a vaccine plan that was in line with federal guidance.

After countless revisions and tweaks of the state’s plan, New Hampshire, like most states, decided to vaccinate senior citizens after frontline workers and other at-risk employees received their first and second doses.

Then, on Tuesday, federal guidance suddenly changed.

Earlier this week, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services advised states to immediately open vaccines to everyone older than 65. New Hampshire had originally planned on vaccinating this age group between March and May in Phase 2.

On Thursday, the state changed course and decided to move New Hampshire senior citizens up in the line to receive vaccines.

The state will begin scheduling appointments next Friday for the next stage of vaccinations, which now includes seniors older than 65, Gov. Chris Sununu announced at a press conference.

New Hampshire’s second stage, 1b, which previously included seniors older than 75 years old has been expanded to include about 100,000 more people. This phase also includes those who are severely medically vulnerable, at-risk caregivers for those under 16, staff and residents of facilities for the disabled, and corrections officers and staff.

Police and firefighters received doses as part of phase 1a, teachers are scheduled to receive their doses in phase 2.

Those who qualify for the vaccine due to a medical vulnerability should contact their doctor to get proof of their condition and schedule a vaccine appointment according to their doctor’s instructions. Seniors should register online at vaccines.nh.gov and bring proof of their age to their appointment.

The federal shift came as shock to many who had worked to develop the original vaccination plan.

“We were really surprised by the announcement, honestly,” David Ross, a member of the state’s State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee, said before the governor’s announcement. “It just raises a lot of questions.”

The first major question was: where are all of these vaccines going to come from? Ross, who is also an administrator at Hillsborough County Nursing Home, worried that if pharmacies started vaccinating the general public, it might become more difficult for nursing homes, who receive their shots through a pharmacy partnership, to schedule appointments. He said officials from pharmacies have assured him they will prioritize frontline workers’ second doses.

The Trump administration urged states to release the doses they had originally held to ensure everyone who had received their first shot would be guaranteed their second shot. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine require a second shot for maximum effectiveness. That worried some healthcare advocates, who fear using those shots may prevent frontline workers from becoming fully vaccinated.

New Hampshire’s vaccination plan was largely based on CDC guidance, which previously recommended holding off on vaccinating those 65-75 until after 1b. As of Monday, only four states had added seniors to their 1a phase priority groups — Georgia and Florida added those 65 and older, Tennessee added those 75 and older, and West Virginia added those 80 and older.

After the Department of Health’s recommendation was made public, California opened vaccinations to those 65 years old and older on Wednesday. States that placed older adults in their first phase, like Florida, have faced rocky vaccine rollouts, as demand quickly outpaced supply.

The availability of vaccine appointments will depend on the availability of vaccines, Sununu said.

Patricia Tilley, the deputy director of public health with the state, said during a roundtable discussion with U.S Senator Jeanne Shaheen on Wednesday that state officials were waiting for more information about the volume of doses New Hampshire will receive.

“We know there are many in New Hampshire who are excited about that idea,” she said. “Our phones are buzzing with texts and calls from individuals, eager to get in line.”

New Hampshire is still in the first stage of vaccine distribute, Phase 1a, which focuses on first responders, health care workers, and staff and residents at long-term facilities.

The new vaccine plan are as follows:

■Throughout January: Phase 1A (about 110,000 people) – high-risk health workers; first responders; residents of long-term care facilities.

■January through March: Phase 1B (about 300,000 people) – People over 65; the medically vulnerable at significant risk, including caregivers for those under 16 at risk; staff and residents of facilities for the disabled; corrections officers and staff.

■March through May: Phase 2A (about 175,000 people) – Staff and teachers at K-12 schools and childcare facilities

■March through May: Phase 2B (about 300,000 people) – People aged 50 to 64.

■May and beyond: Phase 3A (about 325,000 people) - The medically vulnerable at moderate risk under 50 years old.

■May and beyond: Phase 3B (about 325,000 people) – Everybody not already vaccinated.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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