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What We Know About The Vaccination Status Of People Testing Positive For COVID-19 In N.H.

If you're trying to track how many people have been vaccinated in New Hampshire, you're likely to get a different number depending on whether you consult state or federal data. Over the summer, the gap between the two has widened to nearly 100,000 doses.
If you're trying to track how many people have been vaccinated in New Hampshire, you're likely to get a different number depending on whether you consult state or federal data. Over the summer, the gap between the two has widened to nearly 100,000 doses.

The New Hampshire Health Department releases daily data about COVID-19 cases but the information doesn’t paint a complete picture of what’s going on in the Granite State. For instance, the state doesn’t report regularly on how many people who test positive for COVID-19 are vaccinated, and how many are not. 

Here are seven things you should know about that question.

NHPR gets questions from listeners almost every day asking why we don’t report the vaccination status of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. So why don’t we?

Simple answer: The state doesn’t release that information as a part of daily updates. We can’t publish it because we don’t have it. So we started emailing the Department of Health and Human Services inquiring about this data on a weekly basis.

What is the latest breakdown of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths by vaccination status?

The most recent data goes up through last Thursday, Sept 8th.

Hospitals say a lot of vaccinated patients have underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 or actually prevent their bodies from mounting a full response to the vaccine. However, those cases of COVID-19 tend to be milder than for cases in unvaccinated people.

Cases of COVID-19 overall are also likely to be undercounted. People experiencing an asymptomatic or mild case might not get tested, and while access to testing has improved, there still are some barriers. Over-the-counter tests are often sold out at pharmacies, and many providers require pre-booked appointments.

Confusion about cost is another barrier. Testing is fully covered and free for people experiencing symptoms or who have been exposed to the virus, regardless of insurance status. But the state’s Department of Insurance says testing for recreational purposes like travel or seeing a concert, would not be medically necessary and therefore the cost would be borne by the individual requesting the test.

How does the state actually gather vaccination status for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths? 

A spokesperson for the state says the state collects this data through a number of different sources, one of which is their case report form. Health care providers fill out this form to report a positive test, hospitalization or death.

The state says it also combs through their immunization registry to match names with confirmed infections.

Providers are also asking for this information when they conduct a test. If you book a test at Walgreens, for example, the pre-screening questionnaire includes vaccination status.

Hospitals are also collecting their own data and reporting it to the state on a weekly basis.

Are other states reporting this information regularly?

Yes. Other New England states publish at least some of this data on a regular basis. Vermont, for instance, publishes vaccination status for cases, hospitalizations and deaths every two weeks in a larger COVID-19 report.

Does New Hampshire have plans to publish this data going forward? 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services says they are working on a process to report it publicly in the daily reports or on the COVID-19 dashboard. When they do, we’ll share it with you.

Why is it hard to know the current vaccination rate in New Hampshire? 

The state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are our two most reliable sources for this data. They’re reporting different rates of vaccination here in New Hampshire.

On Sept. 16, 68.5 percent of the total New Hampshire population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, per the CDC. But the state’s dashboard says it’s 59.6, a difference totaling almost 100,000 people.

The CDC’s rate shows New Hampshire in the top 15 most-vaccinated states. But the state’s rate would put New Hampshire 22nd, near states with severe waves of the virus and overwhelmed hospitals, like Texas and Kentucky.

NHPR hasn’t gotten a clear explanation from the CDC or the state on why the rates are different. The state has said CDC numbers could be higher because the CDC includes some federal administration of doses, which the state doesn’t track.

But the CDC tells us they get most of their data from the state of New Hampshire. The spokesperson we contacted didn't think federal doses could account for the large discrepancy we’re seeing right now.

Past NHPR reporting revealed that CDC totals in New Hampshire have been revised downwards due to data errors, and some doses being counted twice. Following those revisions, CDC and state data matched, reporting almost the exact same numbers of doses administered. Seeing them misaligned could suggest another potential error.

But until we know more, we don't have a very clear understanding of the progress of vaccinations in New Hampshire.

Another COVID-19 data story NHPR has been following is vaccination rates among racial and ethnic minorities. Where does that stand? 

Back in July the state updated its COVID-19 dashboard, and overnight, vaccination rates for Black and Asian Americans dropped significantly. Vaccination rates for Black Granite Staters dropped from 43 percent having received at least one dose to 33 percent, today, they’re at 35 percent. Rates for Asian Americans dropped from 72 percent to 58 percent, today they’re at 59 percent. Rates for Latino and white residents also dropped, but not nearly as much.

For Black and Latino Granite Staters, current vaccination rates are lower than the national averages found by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

NHPR still has not gotten any explanation for this drop in vaccination rates or whether it’s made the state rethink its strategy at all for reaching racial and ethnic minorities in the state.

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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