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Vaccination rates vary widely across New Hampshire

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2021 10:00:34 PM
Modified: 7/1/2021 10:00:38 PM

WEST LEBANON — New Hampshire town-by-town COVID-19 vaccination rates from the Department of Health and Human Services illustrate local differences in the state’s vaccination rollout that track with broader health disparities, according to a Dartmouth College researcher.

In several of the Upper Valley’s working-class communities, such as Claremont and Newport, the number of residents who have gotten at least one vaccination is below 50%, while the more affluent communities of Hanover and Lebanon, home to Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, respectively, have rates above 70%, according to the data as of June 23 that DHHS provided to the Valley News. Those local rates compare with the statewide average of almost 61%.

“What we’re seeing tracks more generally with what we know in terms of the inequalities that we see across our region,” said Anne Sosin, a policy fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth.

For example, many of the communities with lower vaccination rates also have shorter average life expectancies, she said. While hesitancy is a factor, the town-by-town data indicate that at least some of those who remain unvaccinated are not necessarily hesitant to get the shots, but instead lack access to them. Unvaccinated people are at greater risk of serious illness as the more transmissible Delta variant advances.

“For the most part, the farther you get from Lebanon and Hanover the numbers go down,” said Alice Ely, executive director of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, said of the vaccination rates.

On the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley, the rates range widely from a low of 21% in Unity and a high of 86% in Grantham.

The town-by-town data have some limitations in that they use addresses provided by vaccine recipients, according to DHHS. That means some residents of Unity, for example, which lacks its own post office, may in fact have gotten vaccinated but would show up in data for Claremont if that is where their mailing address is.

In addition, the 2019 Census numbers used to calculate the rates may underestimate those living there because some people may have moved to town since that estimate and some people may have used their second home addresses when getting their shots, having the effect of pushing those towns’ vaccination rates upward.

But, even accounting for those flaws, the “data is striking,” said Sosin.

As the more infectious Delta variant advances, having “many communities in our region with concentrated numbers of unvaccinated people really represents a concern moving forward,” she said.

Ely said the Public Health Council is working to set up pop-up vaccination clinics at farmers markets, fairs and other events this summer in an effort to “get ourselves in front of a more diverse group of people.” The Greater Sullivan County Public Health Network is planning the same, according to Steve Belmont, that network’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator.

Now that the state’s fixed vaccination sites have closed, as of Wednesday, it’s up to the local public health networks to organize clinics and get the word out, Ely said. Shots also are available at pharmacies and through various health providers around the state.

“There is still a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” Ely said. “It’s not as coordinated a communications effort. It is there.”

Haverhill Town Manager Brigitte Codling said she wasn’t surprised to see that her town’s vaccination rate was just 49%.

“We have had successful vaccination clinics in Haverhill and many residents have gotten vaccinated,” she said. “However, we also have residents that either don’t feel the vaccine is necessary or do not have a high enough level of trust in the vaccinations to get vaccinated.”

In a Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center last month, a quarter of Granite Staters said they don’t plan to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Those who voted for former President Donald Trump, a Republican, are more than five times as likely as those who supported President Joe Biden, a Democrat, to say they don’t plan to get vaccinated.

Those who don’t want the vaccine cited reasons such as lack of trust in vaccine safety and effectiveness, and in the companies that manufacture the vaccines; as well as a belief that COVID-19 is not a threat.

While some people will be difficult to sway, those who haven’t been vaccinated because they don’t think they need to be, especially those under 30, represent an opportunity, said Dr. Michael Calderwood, chief quality officer and infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“Some of these individuals will be vaccinated as a requirement for school or work, but most will need to be convinced that they remain at risk if unvaccinated, including for hospitalization, long-term symptoms, and death,” he said.

The more transmissible Delta variant poses a “significant risk” of serious illness for those who are not vaccinated, Calderwood said.

“We really need to vaccinate more than 90% of our population,” he said.

Vermont officials continue to push toward that goal as the Delta variant advances. In Vermont, nearly 74% of all residents and more than 80% of those 12 and older have gotten at least one dose, but state officials continue to encourage more people to get vaccinated. Pop-up clinics are scheduled throughout the July 4 weekend.

“As we see more contagious variants like Delta overtaking the country, as travel increases, as other parts of the country like the South and Midwest see lower vaccination rates and now outbreaks of infection … it becomes even more important to protect as many people as we can,” said Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, in a Tuesday news conference.

Claremont officials have been working with the Greater Sullivan County Public Health Network to set up pop-up clinics around the city. The most recent, during a Pride event at Broad Street Park, distributed no vaccinations, said Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett.

“Certainly, the City of Claremont is demonstrating its willingness to meet people where they’re at,” Lovett said. “It’s up to people whether they want to accept that or not.”

Upcoming walk-in vaccination opportunities in the Upper Valley include: two next Tuesday and Wednesday at Springfield (Vt.) Medical Care System’s location on Pearl St. in Springfield from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. both days. The clinics will be offering the Moderna vaccine.

Additionally, the Lebanon Fire Department, in cooperation with the Upper Valley Public Health Network, is scheduled to offer Johnson & Johnson shots during the Lebanon Farmers Market on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

More information is available online at https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine or https://www.vaccines.gov/.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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