Vaccine Access, Distribution, & Effectiveness: Q&A With N.H. Dept. Of Health & Human Services | New Hampshire Public Radio

Vaccine Access, Distribution, & Effectiveness: Q&A With N.H. Dept. Of Health & Human Services

Jan 21, 2021

Vaccine event at Elliot Hospital for healthcare workers.
Credit Jordyn Haime/NHPR

The Exchange spoke with Dr. Beth Daly, Chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at the N.H. DHHS, Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, and Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, the state deputy epidemiologist, about COVID-19 vaccine access and safety. 

You can listen to the full conversation with Dr. Daly, and with Dr. Chan and Dr. Talbot, and don't miss NHPR's FAQ on coronavirus and vaccine distribution. 

Starting Friday, January 22, New Hampshire residents over the age of 65 can register for a COVID-19 vaccine at vaccines.nh.gov or by calling 2-1-1. 

Below are highlights from these conversations. They have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

"Right now, the amount of doses that we're receiving [from the federal government] is our limiting factor in terms of how quickly we're able to vaccinate the public."

  

Dr. Beth Daly:  Last week, the federal HHS had made an announcement that they were going to be releasing the stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines to the states, and that we should expect to see a significant increase in the allocation made to New Hampshire...

But this has not transpired, from our perspective. We have been receiving around 17,000 doses of vaccine each week to provide those first dose administrations to the public. And at this point, that is the amount of vaccine that we're continuing to receive... 

Right now, the amount of doses that we're receiving [from the federal government] is our limiting factor in terms of how quickly we're able to vaccinate the public.

Those in category 1B who are not 65 or older need physician verification to get vaccinated with that group.

Dr. Beth Daly:  Many healthcare organizations are starting to message their patients, letting them know how they’re managing this….

If you are not part of a major medical organization, but if you have a small primary care provider office that you go to, or something like that, you could potentially reach out to them…

But eventually, you’re going to have to go through your healthcare provider in order to get that verification, and they will let the state know you have been verified.

The vaccine distribution partnership between long term care facilities and pharmacies is overseen by the federal government.

 Dr. Beth Daly: [The partnership] was meant to be an additional resource so we didn’t have to worry about taking care of those facilities…

Certainly, I think we would have liked the program to roll out a little quicker. And you’ll hear that type of feedback from some of the facilities.  

If you are not a resident, even if you are currently living here, you are not eligible to get a vaccine in New Hampshire.

Dr. Benjamin Chan: We are given vaccines by the federal government, to vaccinate as many people as we have listed as residents in the state of New Hampshire. So this gets into a difficult situation, where we are aware of people that have moved to New Hampshire and have been living here, but their official residence is in another state.

And unfortunately, our vaccines have been allocated to New Hampshire for people who are residents.

Due to limited supply of the vaccine, the state's primary focus is first vaccinating those most likely to die from COVID-19.

 Dr. Beth Daly: Our allocation strategy is coming from the perspective of saving lives. We want those people who are over the age of 65 to access the vaccine. That’s who’s dying in our state...

We agree that [essential workers and educators] should get vaccinated. We want them to get vaccinated. There’s just not enough vaccine to go around.

If you look at the essential worker list that the CDC refers to, almost half the workers in our state, probably more than that, are going to fall under one of these essential sectors. So making decisions from the perspective of essential workers and public contact and risk is not going to put us in a place where we can actually carry out our strategy of vaccinating people, because there’s just too many people.

Scientists are still learning how effective the new vaccines are at preventing asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Elizabeth Talbot: Vaccine trials simply didn't study whether the vaccines were preventing asymptomatic transmission... So we don't know the answer. It's not that [the vaccines] don't [prevent transmission], but we have science coming to us on a very regular basis suggesting such. And we're very hopeful. 

The two-dose vaccines are thought to be most effective beginning 14 days after the second dose.

Dr. Benjamin Chan: Even people that are fully vaccinated need to continue to practice all of the recommended mitigation strategies… because we just don’t know how effective the vaccines are at preventing reinfection [and] asymptomatic infection. 

The second dose for a two-dose vaccine may provide greater durability.

Dr. Elizabeth Talbot: Manufacturers of these vaccines didn’t set out to test one dose. They set out to test both.

So, we have some small groups of people who only got one that [researchers] measured… and it looks like there is some protection after one dose… but I want to say again, those were small numbers of people, so there’s not much confidence in those numbers.

We have every expectation that if you get one dose of vaccine, it’s likely that will not be durable protection, that even that compromised amount of protection is going to go away faster than if you get both doses.

Everyone is monitored after receiving their vaccine for 15-30 minutes to ensure there are not allergic reactions.

 Dr. Benjamin Chan: It’s important to differentiate between different types of reactions. Some are normal, expected reactions or side effects from the vaccine…

People can expect some normal side effects after receiving the vaccine that are not considered allergic reactions, in the one to two days after receiving the vaccine, including local injection site reactions like pain, redness, and swelling. And even, potentially, systemic side effects to the vaccine: headaches, muscle aches, even fever and chills have been reported one or two days after receiving the vaccine.

These are normal vaccine side effects, and even if someone has these types of side effects, they still can and should get their second dose of vaccine.