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With federal funding finally approved, improvements are ahead for N.H. vaccine registry system

A photo of Granite Staters holding signs at State House to express opinions on 22.5 million in federal vaccine funding
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Granite Staters gathered outside of the Legislative Office Building in Concord ahead of the Fiscal Committee meeting Friday.

Federal funding to bolster New Hampshire's vaccine registry crossed its final hurdle Friday when lawmakers in the state’s Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted to accept the money in a tense 6-4 vote.

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The funding, worth $22.5 million, has been a months-long battleground of political fighting, protest and misinformation.

Friday’s vote took place in a room crowded with protesters who say that data collected in the state’s vaccine registry system amounts to government overreach and that accepting the funding threatens the rights and freedom of individuals.

New Hampshire law gives Granite Staters the ability to opt out of having their information collected by the registry system.

Several lawmakers who voted against the funding echoed the claims of protesters in speeches given before the vote.

While some of the funding touches directly on COVID-19 vaccination efforts, the majority will improve the infrastructure of the New Hampshire Immunization Information System (NHIIS) and help hundreds of healthcare providers across the state use the system more efficiently.

Ken Gordon, CEO of Coos County Family Health Services, says this funding is a critical support for health care providers. Right now, Gordon says providers must input patient information into NHIIS separately from their own records. The requirement to enter the data twice adds a significant administrative burden.

New Hampshire was the last state in the country to launch a centralized registry system and the new system is still immature.

The new system is a large part of the reason the state and the CDC are unable to accurately track New Hampshire’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, and booster administration rate. More nuanced data like a breakdown of vaccinations by race and ethnicity, or by county, remains unavailable.

In an explanation of the funding request provided to lawmakers, the Department of Health and Human Services wrote that because funds would help improve data connections with providers, the state would be able to have “a complete picture of doses administered.”

The funding will also go towards a platform on NHIIS for school nurses to verify vaccination data for their students, and help them remind parents when their child is behind on a routine vaccination. The explanation of the funding does note that COVID-19 vaccines are not required by schools.