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After N.H. Announced Second Shot Fix, Some Newly Vaccinated Still Not Receiving Appointments

A line of cars awaits at the Lebanon vaccination site
Courtesy of Barbara Pontier
/
The vaccination line in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 29, 2021.

Despite promises of a streamlined system for scheduling second appointments of COVID-19 vaccines, some people receiving first doses in New Hampshire are still not immediately receiving scheduling information for their necessary second shots. 

After a botched scheduling process left tens of thousands of residents facing wait times longer than the CDC recommends between doses, last week Gov. Chris Sununu apologized and announced that starting this week, anyone receiving their first dose would automatically receive an appointment card for a second shot, rather than having to book the second shot through a government website. 

However, at least some recipients of vaccines at state-run vaccination clinics in Lebanon and Exeter on Tuesday said they left without second appointments.

“We said to them that we’d been told that we’d get a card. They said, ‘Oh that’s news to us,’” said Betsy Gonnerman, who along with her husband Mike received their first vaccine doses Tuesday in Lebanon. 

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Gonnerman said she was told by an administrator at the vaccination site that they would receive an email within a few days with their second dose appointment information, even though the new system of automatically scheduling appointments was supposed to launch statewide Feb. 7.  

“We are a little baffled,” she said. “We are sitting here saying, what if we don’t get an email?”

Rob and Deb Hart of Rye reported a similar experience Tuesday after receiving vaccinations in Exeter, where they also were told they would receive an email with information about their second appointment. 

“Disappointing because we thought we would be coming home with our second shot appointment today and not have to worry about getting one when we’re supposed to,” Deb Hart wrote in an email to NHPR. 

[Your Guide to Coronavirus Vaccines in New Hampshire]

State officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the scheduling issue.

During a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu was asked about recipients not receiving vaccine appointment cards. He said the state was aware of some examples of people not receiving second appointment information onsite, but suggested it was a small number of people and that user error was to blame in some cases.

"There were definitely some that the information was incomplete on the card or there was just some misunderstanding of how to turn the card over and see where their second shot was going to be scheduled," said Sununu.

Under the previous scheduling system, vaccine recipients were required to log back into VAMS, the flawed federal vaccine scheduling website, to book second doses. However, thousands of residents were unable to book appointments within the CDC’s recommended windows of 21 days between Pfizer-made vaccines, and 28-days between the Moderna version. 

While the CDC reported that vaccine doses should be administered no later than 42 days apart, many in New Hampshire were only able to book appointments well beyond that window.

Last week, the state attempted to release thousands of new appointments through VAMS to allow those receiving second doses to schedule appointments in line with the CDC’s recommendations. But a series of technical glitches on the government website only led to further confusion, as many people cancelled their second appointments only to find that the only available appointments were actually later than the ones they had cancelled. 

On Thursday, Sununu apologized for the failure, and said the state would move away from VAMS for future phases of vaccine distribution. 

“You’ll get your first shot, and you will be handed a card--not just identifying which vaccine you received, but an exact date and time of when you are going to get your second dose,” Sununu told reporters last week. “The citizens of New Hampshire should not be asked to come back into this very difficult system.”

New Hampshire is one of just a handful of states that opted to use VAMS, which was offered for free by the CDC. While most states either built their own scheduling systems or contracted out the process, New Hampshire had no other choice but to use VAMS because it remains the only state in the nation without a fully functioning vaccine registry.

According to state officials, VAMS served as an effective tool for managing inventory during Phase 1A of the vaccination campaign, which involved health care workers and first responders. The website, however, appears to not have been adequately designed to make individual appointments for hundreds of thousands of residents who became eligible for vaccines in late January as part of Phase 1B.

Anyone unable to access the internet or who has questions about the scheduling process can call a state hotline, 2-1-1, for assistance. 

(This story was updated at 5:15pm.)

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