Twin States diverge on booster plans

  • COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility (Graphic: Business Wire)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2021 8:54:49 AM
Modified: 10/26/2021 8:54:53 AM

WEST LEBANON — COVID-19 booster shots are now available in the Upper Valley and beyond, but the Twin States have taken different approaches to rolling them out.

Vermont health officials announced last week that eligible people could sign up for COVID-19 boosters through a state-run website and phone line. Those eligible in New Hampshire, however, are left to find the shots at a pharmacy or try asking their health care provider directly.

“We are very fortunate that vaccine is available through multiple sources now, so people can get boosters through pharmacies,” said Alice Ely, executive director of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley.

New Hampshire’s reliance on private pharmacies comes as public health networks in New Hampshire are focused on preparing to give shots to children ages 5 to 11 once federal officials authorize shots for that age group, Ely said. Officials are expected to authorize COVID-19 vaccines for young children early next month.

Ely said she didn’t think that priority had been affected by the New Hampshire Executive Council’s rejection earlier this month of $27 million in federal funding for COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“They are the population with no level of vaccine protection,” Ely said of young children. Vaccines are currently authorized for people 12 and older.

New Hampshire is so far trailing its neighbor in vaccination rates. About 71% of all Vermonters and 63% of Granite Staters have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s dashboard.

So far, Vermont also is ahead in booster distribution with 10% of the fully vaccinated population, or 44,000 people, having had a booster as of Sunday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC authorized boosters for some recipients of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines last week. Officials had previously approved Pfizer boosters, which have been available since Sept. 24.

Officials recommend that all recipients of the J&J shots age 18 or older get a booster two or more months after a first shot.

Meanwhile, officials recommend a booster for some recipients of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines six or more months after their initial two-dose series.

Those recommendations extend to Moderna and Pfizer recipients 65 and older; 18 or older and living in long-term care settings; 18 or older with underlying medical conditions; and 18 or older and working or living in a high-risk setting.

Qualifying health conditions include: cancer; kidney disease; liver disease; lung diseases; dementia; diabetes; Down syndrome; heart conditions; HIV; immunocompromised states; certain mental health conditions; overweight and obesity; pregnancy; sickle cell disease; smoking; being a transplant recipient; having had a stroke; substance use disorder; and tuberculosis, according to the CDC.

Workers at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, include: first responders; school and child care employees; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; and grocery store workers.

Vermont also is offering boosters to people 18 or older who are Black, Indigenous or a person of color, or who live with someone who is BIPOC.

In March, Richard Sansing, a 64-year-old Lebanon resident, got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the state-run clinic at the former JCPenney store in West Lebanon. J&J happened to be the shot that was available at the time.

Last week, following the CDC’s authorization of boosters for J&J and Moderna vaccines on Thursday evening, Sansing, a professor of accounting at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, went online in search of an appointment. He was eager to get one in advance of an upcoming business trip, he said.

He eventually found one at Walmart, but when he went on Friday morning, the pharmacist said he wasn’t yet authorized to give boosters, so Sansing went home. A few hours after the initial appointment, the pharmacist called him back and he was able to get the shot. He chose Moderna.

“It was just a little inconvenient,” Sansing said.

In Vermont, those eligible for boosters can sign up for the shots through a pharmacy, the health department or their health care provider.

Norwich resident Suzanne Stofflet, 74, had no problems signing up for a Moderna booster shot appointment at Little Rivers Health Care in Newbury, Vt. later this week.

“I’ve almost nothing to report to you,” she said. “It was easy.”

In describing her reasons for getting a booster, Stofflet turned to a Middle Eastern saying, “Trust in god, but tie your camel.”

“I got all my shots, but I don’t go in to crazy parties,” she said. “I’m still shopping early in the morning and doing safe stuff.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health is currently offering Pfizer boosters to patients and preparing to offer Moderna boosters in the next two weeks, said Audra Burns, a spokeswoman.

Patients can schedule the shots through the myDH patient portal.

“We hope to be able to open more booster-vaccines when flu vaccine activities wind down,” she said.

Vermont health officials said offering booster shots at pharmacies, doctor’s offices and state-run clinics is part of the state’s broader strategy to vaccinate as many people as possible.

“Our efforts recognize that people need easy access to science- and medical-based information, and to be able to get vaccinated when and where it is most convenient for them,” said Ben Truman, a spokesman for the Vermont Department of Health.

Edward Shanshala, CEO of the Littleton-based Ammonoosuc Community Health Services, Inc., said that his organization, which has an office in the Upper Valley community of Woodsville, has struggled to get COVID-19 vaccines to people while also providing other services and facing staffing challenges.

“If patients can get a vaccine at a pharmacy, that is wonderful,” Shanshala said.

More information about booster shots is available online at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine or vaccines.gov, or by calling the Vermont Department of Health at 855-722-7878 or the CDC at 1-800-232-0233.

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




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