NH, Vermont differ on rollout of kids’ COVID vaccine

  • FILE - This October 2021, photo provided by Pfizer shows kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Puurs, Belgium. (Pfizer via AP, File)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/2/2021 5:38:02 PM
Modified: 11/4/2021 7:09:11 AM

WEST LEBANON — New Hampshire health officials are urging families to be patient in scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11, citing the Executive Council’s recent rejection of $27 million in federal funding to support the vaccination effort.

While Vermont officials on Tuesday directed families to register for the shots through a state website and phone number as soon as Wednesday morning, New Hampshire health officials are pointing families of young children to area pharmacies, which already are scheduling booster shots for older people out into the future.

“Parents should expect significant demand for pharmacy-based vaccinations after the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends vaccines for the group,” said Jake Leon, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

CDC advisers on Tuesday unanimously recommended using the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11. That came following the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the vaccine in the age group on Friday. New Hampshire has about 100,000 residents ages 5 to 11, while Vermont has about 44,000. Both states have child-size doses in hand and on order, and aim to distribute them to children who have had some of the highest rates of infection in recent weeks.

But how the shots will reach kids’ arms may differ by state.

After rejecting the $27 million in funds for vaccine distribution from the CDC last month, the New Hampshire Executive Council did approve $4.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for school-based vaccinations last week. But before it can spend the money and run the clinics, DHHS has to submit contracts with regional public health networks and federally qualified health centers, Leon said.

“The public health region is planning to offer vaccines to children once state contracts are approved and will be communicating directly with schools as soon as details are available,” said Alice Ely, executive director of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock patients in the Lebanon area may be able to participate in COVID-19 vaccination clinics for children ages 5 to 11 on Saturday, Nov. 13, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, said Audra Burns, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock spokeswoman.

At least at the beginning, appointments at D-H locations will be reserved for D-H patients, and appointments through the myD-H patient portal are required. Appointment slots will be posted later this week and parents are encouraged to visit go.d-h.org/vaccine for the most current information, Burns said.

Across the Connecticut River, Vermont officials announced in a Tuesday news conference that families with children ages 5 to 11 should be able to begin registering for the shots through the Vermont Department of Health’s website on Wednesday at 8 a.m. Doses also are to be available through community clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices. In addition, 96 schools are slated to hold clinics in the coming weeks.

Vermont officials said the vaccine is safe and effective in preventing infection in individual children, and also is expected to help curb transmission of the virus, which is key to keeping children in school and engaged in other usual activities.

Vermont pediatricians “unequivocally recommend this vaccine for every Vermont child who is eligible,” said Dr. Rebecca Bell, president of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, during Tuesday’s news conference.

In voicing her support, Bell cited the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization of the two-dose immunization for children last week. An FDA panel of independent advisers found that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks. Trials showed that the vaccine was 91% effective against infection in this age group.

Trials of children found that common side effects were sore arms and redness, which went away soon after, she said. There were fewer reports of fever, chills, fatigue and headaches than in adults, and no reports of serious adverse effects related to vaccination, she said.

“Data are clear that the vaccine is beneficial,” she said.

The dose for children ages 5 to 11 is one-third the dose for those who are 12 or older, Bell said. That is because young children generally have a stronger immune response, she said.

Bell encouraged families in Vermont to seek out the shots for their children at the most convenient and earliest opportunity. She said that community vaccination sites would get the child-sized doses soonest, and that pediatric and family practices expected to get shipments by mid-November. School clinics and pharmacies also are expected to receive doses.

The Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union is partnering with the Springfield office of the Vermont Department of Health to offer pediatric vaccines in its schools; a clinic in Hartland is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 18 for first doses; and another clinic in Windsor from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 19 for first doses, according to a Friday message to the community from Superintendent David Baker. There is also a general public vaccine clinic at Windsor from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Nov. 19. Registration is required.

Baker urged community members to get vaccinated in order to limit the virus’s effects on school attendance. Vaccinated people are not subject to the same quarantine requirements after exposure to people who test positive for the virus, so Baker said he’s hopeful that vaccinating younger children will help keep kids in school. He also said vaccinations will help schools ease masking requirements in the future.

“It is my strong belief that if we can get our buildings vaccinated, then we will be able to revisit masking in our buildings,” Baker said. “I see the mask fatigue that sets in with adults and children.”

Meanwhile, many schools across the Upper Valley continue to see cases of COVID-19. The Orange East Supervisory Union, for example, has had recent cases in almost all its schools, including Bradford Elementary School, Oxbow High School, Waits River Valley School in East Corinth and Newbury Elementary School, according to Superintendent Emilie Knisley.

Orange East officials are partnering with Bradford-based Little Rivers Health Care to run school-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics, Knisley said. Those sites are still being finalized, but there will be more than one location in hopes of enabling parents to attend with their young children, she said.

“It is our hope that these clinics will take place by the third week in November,” she said. “We are just waiting for the vaccine to be approved.”

On Wednesday at noon, D-H is slated to host a Facebook Live conversation about 5- to 11-year-old COVID-19 vaccines with Dr. Susanne Tanski, section chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The 30-minute update will be shared on the D-H and CHaD Facebook pages. Parents can submit questions live on the video thread or in advance to social@hitchcock.org.

In addition, Vermont pediatricians are scheduled to host a series of online forums to answer families’ questions about the vaccine: Nov. 8; Nov. 10; Nov. 16; Nov. 18; Nov. 22; and Dec. 2. All forums are slated to take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Pediatricians from around the state are slated to take turns leading the forums. Dr. Ashley Miller, of the South Royalton Health Center, is to answer questions during the forum on Nov. 18. More information and links for the forums are online at aapvt.org.

Beginning Wednesday at 8 a.m., families in Vermont seeking to schedule shots should be able to sign up at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine or by calling 855-722-7878. In New Hampshire, families can visit vaccines.gov.

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

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