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Supply issues limit COVID vaccine availability for some in New Hampshire

A closeup of hands holding a syringe, with vials of vaccine in the background
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR

Since updated COVID-19 boosters were made available last month, some Granite Staters have gotten their shots without any trouble. But others said they’ve run into difficulty due to limited available slots, appointments being rescheduled at the last minute or insurance snafus.

For most of the pandemic, the federal government bought and distributed COVID-19 vaccines to health care providers. That ended last month, and now hospitals, pharmacies and health centers are buying vaccines directly from drug makers or wholesalers.

As vaccine distribution has shifted to the private market, shipping delays and other issues have limited availability at some pharmacies nationwide — including in New Hampshire.

Linds Jakows of Dover first made an appointment to get the COVID-19 booster two weeks ago, but the pharmacy bumped the appointment to the next day, when Jakows wasn’t available. Another pharmacy Jakows went to didn’t take their Medicaid insurance.

Jakows also asked about getting the booster during an upcoming primary care appointment at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. They said they were told the hospital didn’t have any available. (A spokesperson said the hospital received 2,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week and has started distributing them to its practices.)

Jakows finally got the booster this week, but said the process was more difficult than it needed to be.

“It seems like there's more need than ever and there's less public will to get people the vaccines that we all need to stay healthy,” they said. “And so I can imagine other people giving up sooner in the process.”

Visiting Boston this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Mandy Cohen told WBUR that vaccine supply is improving, and people should continue trying to make appointments.

“We already feel like there's really good availability for adults,” Cohen said. “I think the pediatric availability is going to improve over the next one to two weeks. So just call your pediatrician, call your local pharmacy.”

Some hospitals and pharmacy chains said some of their New Hampshire locations have had to navigate supply shortages or delays, but they’re working to increase supplies and meet the demand.

“We’re receiving updated COVID-19 vaccines from suppliers on a rolling basis and most of our locations can honor scheduled appointments,” said Matt Blanchette, a spokesperson for CVS. “However, due to delivery delays from our wholesalers, some appointments may be rescheduled.”

A Walgreens spokesperson said Thursday that most New Hampshire locations had enough vaccine supply, but a “handful” were low or out.

“We are working closely with our distributor to ensure stores have the necessary supply to support the demand in their communities,” said the spokesperson, Stephanie Corcilius.

Dr. Molly Mortimer, the director of pharmacy services at Elliot Health System, said the Manchester-based system has navigated similar challenges.

“As is the case with health care providers across the country, currently, we are experiencing limited available quantities of the updated COVID vaccine for our outpatient settings,” she said in a statement Thursday.

She added that the health system is “taking every step available to us to obtain additional supply for our patients as quickly as possible.”

Protection from vaccination goes down over time, and boosters have been shown to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 in previously vaccinated people. This season’s shots have been updated to protect against more recent strains of the virus.

The CDC recommends an updated vaccine for everyone ages 6 months and up this fall. They can be given at the same time as annual flu shots. Many pharmacies are booking appointments for flu and COVID vaccines online.

This story has been updated to clarify the CDC's guidance on vaccines.

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.
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