Following a week in which tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents were unable to schedule second vaccination appointments, leading to frustration and fingerpointing, the state announced Thursday that it's revamping its COVID-19 vaccination system. NHPR’s Todd Bookman and Peter Biello discussed the latest developments in the effort to deliver vaccinations.
Peter Biello: Let's start with today’s new announcement. People will now be automatically scheduled for their second COVID vaccine doses, rather than having to either go back online or call 2-1-1 to make these appointments. That sounds like an upgrade, yes?
Todd Bookman: Yes, very much so. We saw a lot of frustration in the past week from people who got their first doses but then weren't able to schedule a second shot for, in some cases, eight weeks out. That is far more time than the CDC recommends between doses. It's supposed to be right around a three-week window for the Pfizer shots, and four weeks for the Moderna shot. But starting this Sunday, New Hampshire residents will not need to log back into the online system to make second dose appointments. When you show up and get your first shot, you will get an appointment card with a day and time for your second shot. And then that will all be entered automatically into the scheduling system.
Biello: VAMS. That's the name of the online scheduling system the state is using. It’s fast becoming a dirty word in New Hampshire. Many people say it's confusing, it's complicated, or in some cases just doesn't work as advertised. How did the state get into this mess?
Bookman: VAMS: It stands for Vaccine Administration Management System. And it's essentially a government website that people use to sign up for vaccination appointments. And it also allows states to monitor inventory levels of COVID-19 vaccines.
VAMS was designed by Deloitte, a major consulting firm. The CDC paid more than $40 million for it, but it is being offered to states for free. New Hampshire is just one of 10 or so states that opted to use it. Officials say that's in part because they had no other choice: New Hampshire is the only state in the country without a statewide vaccine registry, the very system that helps states vaccinate people.
So while other states could use their preexisting registry to build out a system for scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations, New Hampshire kind of had this blank slate and needed to use the option provided by the feds. The thing is, VAMS was not, apparently, designed to have hundreds of thousands of people trying to log on and make appointments. So in the coming weeks, New Hampshire is going to launch its own website where people will be able to register and make appointments all in one. But until then, first doses still need to be scheduled through VAMS or by calling 2-1-1.
Biello: Well, how is the vaccination process actually going, assuming you can navigate the system?
Bookman: It's slow, but steady. The state's been receiving 17,500 vaccinations per week, and that's basically what is being put into people's arms this week. The number of doses did increase a bit. New Hampshire received closer to 20,000 doses, and the state expects that number to slowly increase over time.
Biello: And overall, how many people have received vaccinations?
Bookman: Well, overall, 110,000 residents have now received their first shots; 38,000 have received both doses. And that's out of a population of about 1.3 million people. If you break vaccinations down on a per capita basis, New Hampshire is largely in line with most other New England states. Connecticut and Vermont have done slightly more as a percent, but it's relatively close throughout the region.