N.H. Falls Behind Most of New England But 'Right in the Middle' of the U.S. On Vaccine Progress
Earlier this year, state leaders were eager to tout New Hampshire’s progress getting COVID-19 shots into the arms of its residents.
“Here, in New Hampshire, we continue to administer vaccines at a higher rate than most states,” Gov. Chris Sununu noted during a Jan. 14 press conference. “I think we're currently ranked about 12th on the CDC chart, in terms of administration.”
At that time, in mid January, New Hampshire had used about 46 percent of its available vaccine supply, putting it ahead of most states, according to archived data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, however, the state has fallen closer to the national median in vaccine administration, and now trails many neighboring states.
As of Feb. 24, New Hampshire has used just under 74 percent of its vaccine supply. That puts it, narrowly, in the bottom half of states, where the median is a little over 76 percent.
“New Hampshire is right in the middle of the country on our progress,” Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, told NHPR this week. “We’re average.”
Using another metric — the percent of residents who have received at least one shot — New Hampshire fares better. In most states, somewhere between 13 and 15 percent of residents have received at least one shot; in New Hampshire, that number stands at about 15 percent.
Similarly, most states have given second doses to between 5 and 7 percent of their population; in New Hampshire, about 6.5 percent of residents have received second shots.
“Most of the country is right in step with each other,” Daly said. “We're all doing good. There are some high performers, and I'm not sure why that is, and then some low.”
(If you're having trouble viewing the charts below, click here for a closer look at the progress on first doses and here for a closer look at the progress on second doses.)
Within New England, New Hampshire has secured first shots for a smaller share of its residents compared to all of its neighbors — except Rhode Island. When it comes to the share receiving second shots, New Hampshire is ahead of both Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
New Hampshire has given about twice as many vaccines, in total, as Vermont — but our population is about twice as large, which puts us farther behind when measuring our progress toward vaccinating the state as a whole. Compared to Maine, which is closer in population size, New Hampshire trails in shots given as a share of population by less than one percentage point.
(Read more from NPR: How to Sign Up For A COVID-19 Vaccine In Your State)
Several New England states, including New Hampshire, have been relying on a centralized vaccine scheduling system. In Connecticut, eligible residents can either schedule through a state hotline or directly with a list of select providers, including pharmacies or other health clinics. Maine has also been allowing eligible residents to schedule appointments directly through their health care providers.
“Obviously, we want to have the highest proportion of people vaccinated,” Daly said. “But, you know, we're all using different strategies and clearly the strategies can impact how quickly you're able to vaccinate. But I actually think we get a lot of positive feedback for our very centralized approach we’ve taken in New Hampshire.”
Most of the shots given in New Hampshire so far have been administered through hospitals, state-run sites and regional public health networks. Large pharmacy chains have also handled the rollout for most of the state’s long-term care facilities.
The plan is to decentralize New Hampshire’s vaccine administration in the months ahead, making it more widely available through pharmacies, like Walgreens, and other health care providers. Daly said the state is also looking at the possibility of opening up the kind of “super-sites” seen elsewhere, like the one at Fenway Park, but details aren’t yet final on that.
As of Tuesday, Daly said about 150,000 people were waiting in line for vaccine appointments. The state is expecting to open up eligibility for the second phase of vaccine distribution — which will include school and child care staff — at the end of March. The first vaccines in that group are likely to happen in early April, she said, “although the end of March isn’t out of the question if we get increasing allocations.”
The last month has been a rocky one for New Hampshire’s vaccine rollout. Tens of thousands of residents struggled to secure appointments for their second doses due to a faulty government website. State officials scrapped their original second-dose scheduling system in response to growing complaints, and have been moving up first dose appointments as new slots become available. Sununu, however, has stressed that the appointment hiccups didn’t delay the administration of any vaccines.
New Hampshire is not the only state that’s seen logistical issues, though. Just last week, the state website for vaccine signups in Massachusetts crashed as millions of newly eligible residents tried to book appointments. Registration challenges have also been reported in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Each state takes a different approach not just to vaccine distribution, but also vaccine eligibility. New Hampshire is one of about a dozen states that opened up vaccine access to more older adults above age 65, in line with updated federal recommendations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It’s also one of about two dozen states where adults with certain high-risk medical conditions can receive the vaccine at this time, according to the New York Times.
New Hampshire is not among the roughly 30 states where teachers are eligible for the vaccine right now, nor is it among the roughly 20 making doses available to grocery workers. But neither are any other states in New England, according to the New York Times.