Federal urging to speed up vaccinations could scramble New Hampshire’s plans

  • Spc. Madalyn Stella, combat medic, 197th Feld Artillery Brigade, New Hampshire Army National Guard, emerges from a medical tent with a COVID-19 vaccine for an awaiting patient Dec. 29 in Exeter, N.H. Stella is one of 11 NH Guardsmen assigned to the vaccination station, one of 13 across the state. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston. Staff Sgt. Charles Johnson

Monitor staff
Published: 1/12/2021 6:44:02 PM

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services advised states to accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination process by releasing the doses they had originally held back for second shots.

Half of the vaccines had originally been held back to ensure everyone who had received their first shot would be guaranteed their second shot.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine require a second shots for maximum effectiveness.

However, during an interview with Good Morning America on Tuesday, Alex Azar, Health and Human Services secretary, said vaccine production is now stable enough to reliably generate second doses.

If New Hampshire accepts the recommendation, tens of thousands more vaccines could be made available to Granite Staters. Yet some fear this move will put the vaccination of healthcare providers and first responders in danger.

Brendan Williams, the president of the N.H. Health Care Association said if the state decides to abide by the federal government’s recommendations, it’s possible shots won’t be available for frontline workers who need their second doses.

“It will have taken almost a month to administer first-shot vaccinations for our state’s nursing homes, and what if the shots aren’t there for the second round?” he said.

New Hampshire’s governor, Chris Sununu, echoed similar concerns. The federal government has overpromised vaccine availability before — in December, state officials were told to expect a smaller shipment of the vaccine with little explanation.

“While the state appreciates the flexibility these potential federal changes may allow, they raise considerable questions surrounding future vaccine allocations, and the guarantees we can expect to receive from the federal government going forward,” Sununu said.

Sununu said he will meet with federal officials and governors from other states to clarify details and plan the next steps.

In another attempt to speed up vaccinations, the Trump administration recommended states begin to offer vaccines to everyone older than 65. New Hampshire had originally planned on vaccinating this age group between March and May in Phase 2.

Prioritizing everyone 65 and older in New Hampshire could mean hundreds of thousands of people moving up in the vaccine line. Logistically, it’s unclear how this would work. 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 sudden shift in policy recommendation is jarring for health care advocates, who have worked with the state for months to develop and execute the vaccination plan.

“To jerk states around in the waning days of an outgoing administration doesn’t feel like good public policy to me,” Williams said. “This is a fittingly chaotic finale to the chaotic pandemic response.”

These new federal guidelines were announced after a disappointing vaccination effort in the U.S, which has vaccinated about 9.27 million people, dramatically lower than 20 million vaccinations expected by January. The CDC is expected to send formal guidance to governors on Tuesday, Bloomberg news reported.

Compared to its population, New Hampshire has administered the 14th highest number of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S – a statistic that is promising, but prone to fluctuations.

The next group of people will likely be vaccinated between January and March, though its not clear how the potential release of new vaccines will affect this timeline. This group includes those 75 or older, those with severe medical vulnerabilities, staff in correctional facilities, and residents and staff at facilities that serve those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

It is still not known how Granite Staters in that group will receive their vaccines – there is not currently a waiting list or scheduling process for those in Phase 1b. The N.H Department of Health and Human Services has promised to post updates on its website.


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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