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As Schools Reopen, Many N.H. Towns Face Slow Rate Of Youth Vaccination

photo of vaccine vials
Many Granite State communities are reporting youth vaccination rates below 40 percent. In some, that rate is below 20%.

New Hampshire has a high rate of COVID-19 vaccination among older residents, but the rate among younger residents falls far short, with many communities reporting youth vaccination rates below 40 percent.

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While the most recent data from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows over 85 percent of residents in their 70s are fully vaccinated, only 37 percent of those aged 12 to 19 are fully vaccinated. The state’s data does not include some doses of the vaccine that have been administered in New Hampshire through federal vaccine programs.

Since COVID vaccines were made available late last year, 54 percent of New Hampshire’s population has become fully vaccinated. Children aged 12 to 15 have been eligible to receive the vaccine since May, but uptake in some areas is limited.

Rates vary significantly by community. The city of Claremont, for instance, shows just a 15 percent rate of youth vaccination. Some of the towns showing the highest rates of youth vaccination, like Windham, at 69 percent, or Hanover at 55 percent, still fall short of the 80 percent vaccination rate public health experts recommend before dropping some COVID mitigation measures like indoor masking.

Younger people are less likely to be hospitalized for serious complications related to COVID-19, but doctors and health experts recommend they receive the vaccine to protect themselves and limit the possible transmission to others.

The low vaccination rates come as school boards across New Hampshire debate last-minute changes before reopening schools in the next two weeks. Some towns, such as Londonderry, are facing increasing pressure from groups of parents, conservative activists, and Republican lawmakers to drop mask mandates, in spite of state and CDC guidance recommending masks inside all schools.

Paula MacKinnon, the president of the New Hampshire School Nurses’ Association, said schools have been holding free vaccination clinics in the past few months for students who have parental permission to get a shot. She attributes the low numbers to the momentum of the anti-vaccine movement.

The nurses’ association recommends universal masking in all schools, regardless of the local transmission rate. The state health department recommends masks in areas with substantial transmission or with moderate transmission and a large outbreak.

Cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire schools were relatively isolated during the last school year, including in buildings that reopened fully. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes low rates of transmission to mitigation measures like social distancing and masking. With that in mind, MacKinnon said she’s not ready to pull back on mitigation strategies.

“Let’s see what the Delta variant is going to do,” MacKinnon said. “This is not the same ballgame. Until we know what the Delta variant is going to do and how it’s going to behave, we need to fully mask up and social distance.”

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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