As Moderna and Pfizer apply for emergency FDA approval of their COVID-19 vaccines, New Hampshire is making more plans for distribution. But the state still lacks what experts say is a key tool in that distribution process: an immunization registry.
New Hampshire remains the last state in the nation to set up its vaccine registry. Experts say tracking the COVID-19 vaccine is particularly important because it is administered federally and in two separate doses.
State health officials have been working on the registry for years and say it should be ready by mid-December. By then, officials say, the state may have already received a limited batch of the vaccine.
"We currently have a process in place for providers to be able to order vaccines and track the vaccine status of their patients," said Jake Leon, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services. "The registry will support the current process and the efforts by DHHS and healthcare providers to notify patients when their second dose is due."
Providers say they've already gone through training on how to use the state's Vaccine Administration Management System (or "VAMS"), and until then, they feel well prepared. While there isn't yet a functioning statewide immunization database, many provider say they already track vaccine distribution within individual offices or healthcare systems.
"If the state does not have a vaccination registry ready at the time the vaccine rolls out, we have a way to gather than information and then be able to input that into the vaccination registry," said John Skevington, CEO of Parkland Medical Center in Derry. "We do that currently for flu vaccinations."
Meanwhile, the state's plans for COVID-19 vaccine distribution are moving forward. High-risk health care workers, people in long term care settings and first responders will be among the first to get the vaccine, according to the latest version of New Hampshire's plan.
After that initial phase, the state's public health networks will take on vaccinating other vulnerable populations. Mary Cook, public health emergency preparedness manager at the Seacoast Public Health Network, says the regional departments are going to need as many volunteers as they can get to make that happen. Interested volunteers can sign up at NHResponds.org.
"We'll need non-medical volunteers to help with screening and to help with observation," Cook said. "Because after a recipient has a vaccine they'll have to be observed for 15 minutes. Plus we'll have vaccinator stations. So we will need medical and non-medical."