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North Conway Hospital Emergency Preparedness Manager Says He's Seeing Slight Uptick In First Dose Vaccine Recipients

Picture of vaccine vial
Wikimedia Commons

As the pandemic edges closer to becoming a two-year reality, daily vaccination numbers in New Hampshire are slowing down, even as the Delta variant emerges as a new threat.

All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Will Owen, the emergency preparedness manager at Memorial Hospital in North Conway, about the vaccination efforts he's been leading and how to continue to reach those who haven't gotten a shot yet. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: This is All Things Considered on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. Daily vaccination numbers in New Hampshire, once high, have dropped dramatically even as the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads. One of the people leading the vaccination charge in the Granite State is Will Owen, the emergency preparedness manager at Memorial Hospital in North Conway. He's here to talk about current efforts to get shots into people's arms. Will, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Will Owen: Thank you for having me.

Peter Biello: So, tell us about your most recent vaccination clinic. How many people showed up and did you learn anything about what brought them?

Will Owen: Yeah, so we continue to have weekly vaccinations every Wednesday. And I think what we're noticing is that every Wednesday at our normal weekly vaccination clinic, those numbers, our numbers are creeping up a little bit. And the one I'm looking at a lot is the percentage of first doses. And so we've been hovering in the 20% to 30% [range], but this past week we're at 50% first dose, which, to me, is a good sign because more people are entering into sort of the vaccine realm and workflow there.

Peter Biello: So, 50% of the people who show up are showing up for their first dose?

Will Owen: Yes, this past week, which is up from two weeks ago when we were about 25% to 30% of our first doses. So, that's a good sign to me that we are seeing people still actively pursuing starting the vaccination process.

Peter Biello: And are they saying anything about what made them make the decision to get their first shot?

Will Owen: There's a variety of answers there. Some of it is 'I've just been waiting. The timing hasn't been right.' There is some convenience. It hasn't been a priority. I think some is concern about the news of the Delta variant and what's going on throughout the country and world with the Delta variant and the fear factor and the tipping point for them. So I think that those all apply to our weekly clinic. When we've done some pop-up clinics where we've gone out into the community and been more accessible, it's when we hear from people. It's, 'you were right next door. I was here. It was convenient. It was easy, and it just hasn't been a priority.' So that has been one of our strategies is to try to make it as easy and convenient as possible.

Peter Biello: Got it. Vaccination numbers at Memorial have dropped significantly from around 350 to 400 vaccines a day, five days a week in the early days of the vaccine rollout to only about 30 or 40 per day once a week now. A lot of reasons for this trend, of course, it's happening across the state. What, in your view, are the main factors keeping people from getting vaccinated in your area?

Will Owen: That's an excellent question that if I had all the answers to that, we wouldn't have had the drop. I think it's convenience. I think we [have] hit the people who really wanted to get vaccinated. So, the hesitancy to be vaccinated now is a group that is still waiting for more information and time and some tipping point. And then there is a group who just has decided they're not going to get vaccinated. So, I think there are a variety of different issues there. And what we're trying to do is to provide more education, more accessibility, more opportunities to be vaccinated. One big issue has been choice. We have done a hesitancy poll here at Main Health that looked at issues. And one was people wanted to be able to come in and choose their vaccine. And so we have now offered that. So when you come to our clinic now, as long as we have the vaccine available, which we try to every time, we have Pfizer, Moderna and [Johnson & Johnson] available to our patients.

Peter Biello: You mentioned pop-up clinics. What are some of the opportunities and challenges associated with pop-up clinics?

Will Owen: Opportunities are trying to find places where people are congregating in large numbers. So, we've looked at Settlers Green, which is a large mall area. We've gone to fairs in our community park. We've gone to employers with large amounts. So, those are the opportunities we're looking for. The challenges are transporting the vaccine, having the vaccine stay cold, the documentation, the fact that now we have to set up a second appointment for them or a second shot for them if they choose to get either the Pfizer or Moderna. So, there are a lot of operational challenges that we have gotten much more comfortable and figured out answers to as we do more and learn more.

Peter Biello: Will Owen, I imagine it's a lot to handle COVID cases, the effort to get vaccination shots in arms, on top of your regular hospital work. Leadership members at Memorial have used the term 'two canoes' to describe handling both the COVID-19 crisis and all the other services your hospital provides — one canoe for each effort. Do you feel like you can paddle both of these canoes at the same time?

Will Owen: Yes. I mean, as well as anyone can paddle two canoes. We are managing to do that, and we meet regularly about shifting weight. This week, for example, has been a big shift from the hospital canoe back into the COVID canoe as we anticipate schools opening and the Delta variant spreading and numbers starting to trend up. So, we are agile and able to shift back and forth between the two. We recognize that both canoes are extremely important. We learned that in the early days of the pandemic when we may have, like everyone, but a little bit more emphasis in the COVID canoe, and we were shutting down our operating room to certain cases and our primary care. So, we are doing everything possible to keep both canoes paddling.

Peter Biello: Will Owen is the emergency preparedness manager at Memorial Hospital, where he's been helping to lead their vaccination efforts. Will, thank you again for your time.

Will Owen: Thank you, Peter. I appreciate the time to meet with you and chat. Let's encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

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