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From Tech Troubles To Appointment-Making, N.H. Official Answers Your Vaccine Rollout Questions

photo of vaccine vials

The state began "Phase 1B" of its vaccine rollout two weeks ago. Those who are 65 and older, and younger people who have serious medical conditions, are now getting their first doses. 

NHPR's Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Dr. Beth Daly, the state's Chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control on Tuesday. He asked her questions NHPR has received from listeners about the vaccine rollout.

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Rick Ganley: Before people can get an appointment to get a COVID shot, they have to register. Now, the biggest frustration we've heard so far from listeners is that multi-step sign up process for that. Those who are eligible have to complete the state managed website questionnaire. And then there's a second similar list of questions from the CDC. Why can't that process be streamlined?

Beth Daly: Well, that's a great question. So the technology that we have available to us now is a two-step process, as you mentioned. So they go into our state portal first and register with us. That allows us to collect their contact information, other screening and eligibility information, and then we go ahead and upload that information into the CDC's VAMS system. And that is the system that we schedule in. So currently that's a two-step process. We are working on making that a one step process by implementing some new technology that we expect to have ready in the next few weeks, which will certainly help as we move forward with our vaccine rollout and as we continue to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of people that are going to be coming in the coming months to get vaccinated.

Rick Ganley: Yeah, so later phases you anticipate a one step process?

Beth Daly: That's right. And unfortunately, that technology just wasn't available yet. And we certainly didn't want to hold up offering this vaccine to these individuals who are most vulnerable for COVID-19, you know, to wait for this technology to be available.

Rick Ganley: We've heard from a lot of people who may not be online or may not be that web savvy and are using the phone. Are you hearing about people who are getting a busy signal or aren't getting their questions answered on 211? Are they able to get through? Can you tell us what you know about that?

Beth Daly: Sure. So in general, people are getting through to 211. We've had lower wait times than expected and we have hundreds of people here to answer your phone calls and questions. There have been longer waits or challenges using 211, I think, on the busier days. For example, the days we first roll out a new process, or something has changed, resulting in an increase in calls. But overall, the 211 process has worked and our wait times have been very low.

Rick Ganley: We know that after people get their first vaccine, they need to then schedule, of course, that second appointment. Why not just let people make both appointments at the same time or have them, you know, automatically schedule?

Beth Daly: So the system that we're using, VAMS, does not allow for you to schedule your second dose until you've had that first dose. Some people don't show up for appointments and then it takes up spots that another person can have. So the way the technology works that we have available to us, which we can't currently change, is that you do have to get that first dose before you can schedule your second dose.

Rick Ganley: And of course, all of this depends on supply. We've heard that the state could be receiving up to 15 percent more doses in the coming weeks. What's the latest on that and what does that mean for appointments? Will the state automatically bump people scheduled all out to April, possibly, for an earlier slot?

Beth Daly: We have received word that we're going to receive an increase in our Moderna allocation, which will put us at just over 20,000 doses each week. So that is currently what we're expecting to receive. This does certainly help us with being able to make vaccines available. You know, because we have rolled out this system that allows for you to bring another eligible person with you, that will allow us to make sure that we can offer vaccines to everyone who does present with a family member or someone who they brought with them to get vaccinated, who is also eligible.

So this is a relatively small increase. I think it's about 2,500 or so doses additional, which does not significantly increase our capacity to vaccinate individuals. It really just gives us that buffer to ensure that we have vaccine to meet the existing needs that we have in terms of those appointments where individuals are bringing that companion. So we want to, again, make sure that we have vaccine for that companion.

Rick Ganley: Sure. What about cancellations? Could people be moved up if cancellations or no shows open up appointments?

Beth Daly: So that's not really possible to do in real time when someone doesn't show up for their appointment. We're obviously processing hundreds of people through each site and there's not an ability to do that. And people should not cancel their appointments in VAMS looking for a newer or earlier appointment, because once you try to reschedule your appointment in that VAMS system, it cancels your existing appointment and you might not find a better time slot.

Rick Ganley: So if you get an appointment, keep it.

Beth Daly: Yes.

Rick Ganley: I know the mobile vaccination clinics are also a way the state is distributing vaccines under its equity allocation. Ten percent of the state's vaccines should go to disproportionately affected communities. How many vaccines have already gone out as part of that plan, and how many New Hampshire residents fall under that plan?

Beth Daly: So the way that program is working is that we are looking at a vulnerability index in order to identify those areas that are most vulnerable to COVID-19 currently based on a number of different factors, which include socio and economic factors, as well as COVID-19 incidents. And so those areas that have been prioritized, not surprisingly, are in the cities of Manchester and Nashua. Now, there are certainly other areas across the state. We've basically ranked these. For example, there are some areas of Concord and other areas across the state.

And so we're working with the regional public health networks in those areas to set up clinics for these different vulnerable populations. And I know that our cities in Manchester and Nashua, those health departments, are working on rolling out these clinics. And I know that some have already been conducted. I just don't have the numbers for you this morning.

Rick Ganley: Yeah, do you have a timeline on when some more of those clinics may be operational?

Beth Daly: So there's vaccines available for this program every week. And so there are clinics happening as this vaccine becomes available.

Rick Ganley: And more clinics are scheduled to come online in the next few weeks?

Beth Daly: Yes.

Rick Ganley: We've heard from some members of our audience who are older, those over 80 or, you know, they have family members with health conditions who have later appointments. Well, some of their younger, healthier family members or friends are getting the vaccine first. How are you ensuring that older people who may not have as much access to technology or are getting served?

Beth Daly: Sure. So we've had many individuals call us at 211. We're able to schedule those individuals who aren't able to maneuver the technology to support them in getting a vaccine spot. We have not prioritized anyone within this Phase 1B group. So we haven't said that people older than 75, for example, will get vaccinated first. That's not how this rollout works. We have made the vaccine available to everyone within this large group of Phase 1B. Individuals and people will just have to log in and work through the process to get the earliest vaccine spot that's available for them.

Rick Ganley: So if you are in that Phase 1B group, it's first come, first serve?

Beth Daly: That's correct.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR. She manages the station's news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can email her at mmcintyre@nhpr.org.

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