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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.