New Hampshire ski patrollers are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations alongside front line health care workers.
The state’s original vaccine plan didn’t prioritize the 500-plus paid and volunteer patrollers who work at New Hampshire ski areas. The most conspicuous notice of the change in policy appears on the website of the New Hampshire Region Ski Patrol, which announced the change last week.
“The vaccine is available for ALL NH patrollers (full time, part time, paid or volunteer),” the announcement reads. “Even if you live out of state, as long as you patrol in NH.”
In a separate post on the state ski patrol site, New Hampshire Region Director Carl Chaplin wrote, “I’d like to thank those that participated in the effort to get the state to agree, bravo.”
The policy change appears to have coincided with Vermont’s decision to put ski patrollers into that state’s top category for vaccine receipt. Jake Leon, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, said ski patrol staff “are required to provide immediate emergency medical care, like first responders do, in a setting where it is difficult to don PPE while attending to an individual in need.”
Leon also said individual resorts submitted lists prioritizing those ski patrol members at highest risk.
Asked about the position of ski patrol members in the state’s vaccine plan, Gov. Chris Sununu, whose family owns the Waterville Valley ski resort, said ski patrollers are seen as front line medical workers and merit getting vaccines as soon as possible.
"It's making sure that those that are most vulnerable, that those at the highest risk, get to go first,” Sununu said. “That, frankly, is only fair, and that's what managing this crisis is all about."
In Vermont and New Hampshire, the decision to prioritize vaccines for ski patrollers before other groups is angering unions that represent teachers. New Hampshire teachers are slated to get vaccinated as part of phase 2, which begins in March.
“We are calling on Governor Sununu to follow the lead of other states and prioritize vaccinating our teachers with high-risk first responders,” said President Megan Tuttle of NEA-NH, the largest union representing the state's public school teachers.
NEA-NH also argues that state law doesn’t consider all ski patrollers emergency medical providers, pointing to a statute that defines emergency medical workers and which states the category “shall not include lifeguards at swimming facilities or members of ski patrols, or New Hampshire fish and game department conservation officers, unless said individuals are performing invasive patient care procedures.”
But with ski season nearing its peak, and with visitors from near and far hitting the slopes in New Hampshire, some say vaccinating at least some ski patrollers makes sense.
“We’re kind of a destination spot for skiing in the east,” said Conway Fire Chief Steve Solomon, whose department includes firefighters who moonlight as ski patrollers at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway.
Solomon noted that ski patrollers, at least some of them, will have to provide medical care to people who may be infected with COVID-19. But he also said prioritizing vaccines for all ski patrollers, regardless of their duties, may not be prudent.
“Vaccinating all patrollers means we are giving people who don’t have direct patient contact vaccines,” Solomon said, “when there may still be people who do have direct patient care that haven’t yet received it.”