CONCORD, NH – New Hampshire will offer vaccines to anyone 16 years of age and older regardless of their residency, and will begin taking appointments for all beginning April 19, Gov. Chris Sununu said at his news conference on Thursday.
Sununu said New Hampshire citizens still have 10 days to make sure they are prioritized. He said he has no idea how many people will come from out of state, but said there are about a quarter-million appointments still available before June and already close to 60 percent of the state’s eligible residents have already made appointments to be vaccinated or are already vaccinated.
“We just have so much more available so we want to give it out,” Sununu said.
People can find information on how to register at vaccines.nh.gov.
This resolves an issue Sununu has been facing after he said out-of-state students here at colleges and prep schools could not access the vaccines.
Sununu said he expects another 10,000 people will receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine with him this weekend when he gets his shot and noted additional opportunities for 4,500 to get a single dose vaccine appointment in Salem, Concord, and Newington are close to filling up.
“We have got a huge influx of (the single dose) and we want to get it out quickly,” Sununu said.
However, he said he was told by the Biden Administration that they overestimated the number of future doses of that vaccine and the state is likely to see far fewer in the weeks ahead. Rather than getting 2,500 a week, he expects it to go to 900 in the following weeks.
“That’s OK. We are already ahead of the game,” said Sununu.
All states are in the same situation, he said, because distribution is based on population. This is the limiting factor the governor stressed in getting the state fully vaccinated.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said there is a continued upward trend of new COVID-19 cases, more hospitalizations and he reported one new death of a resident who was not associated with a long-term care facility Thursday, for a total of 1,251 deaths.
Chan said the state was reporting 515 new cases of the virus and over the past week has been averaging over 400 new infections each day. The number of active cases has climbed again to 3,585 and the positivity rate is slowly creeping up to about 5 percent. As of Thursday, there were 102 people hospitalized, a number that was also on the increase, he said.
“The numbers point still to the fact that community spread of COVID-19 is increasing,” Chan stressed. He said the state continues to tell people to use face masks, social distancing, and get vaccinated at the earliest possible appointment.
Sununu noted that he has moved up his vaccination date and will be vaccinated on Saturday.
Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, said 745,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the state including 36 percent of the population getting their first and about 20 percent who are now fully vaccinated. The state received over 65,000 doses last week and there are now around 100 different sites to get vaccinated in the state, including 86 pharmacy locations.
She noted that since last week when the vaccine was offered to all residents 16 and up, more than 200,000 people registered, and when that is considered, she said about 60 percent have made the choice to get vaccinated.
Lori Shibinette, Health and Human Services commissioner, said as of Thursday the state was closing one outbreak of three or more cases of the virus at Granite Recovery Center leaving only four long-term care facilities, two nursing homes, and two correctional facilities in outbreak status. She said there were no new outbreaks to report this week.
Sununu has asked all schools to return to in-person classes by April 19 but some districts have still voiced concerns and about 30 districts are asking for waivers. Some have not had time to get staff fully vaccinated.
Sununu said, “You do not need a vaccine to get schools back up and running.”
Parents can still request remote learning, Sununu said, but most parents desperately want schools to reopen.
“That should tell you a lot about the importance of opening up,” he said.
Asked if he is rushing schools to open fully before spring vacation, Sununu said, “We are not rushing, they are behind.”
He said schools that do not fully open cannot count remote learning as part of the state’s 180-day requirement to be open and they will have to make those days up.
He said the importance of opening up on April 19, is “we don’t’ want to wait till September to assess all the kids who have fallen through the cracks.”
Sununu said remote learning is not as effective as in-person and that teachers need to get “eyes on them, engage them one on one” with the hope of them getting them caught up before the end of the school year to “finish strong” rather than wait for September.
Dr. Chan said the same side effects from the vaccines can be expected, regardless of which company made it. While some have localized swelling and pain near the vaccine site, some face systemic symptoms such as fever and muscle aches.
These occur in about a day or two and resolve after two days usually, he said. But people who are not feeling well after that should reach out to their health-care provider, he said. A rapid antigen test may tell in 15 minutes if it is COVID-19, he said.
There have been about 1,000 homebound residents vaccinated at their homes and about 2,500 have been identified as needing that help, but Shibinette said this process will take some time to complete. The state has been working to vaccinate that population for three or four weeks.
The state made a seventh arrest Thursday in an investigation into child sexual abuse by their caregivers at the Youth Development Center dating back decades. Sununu said he is committed to ensuring that those who committed “some horribly heinous crimes” will face justice.
“We are not messing around,” he said. “We are going after all of them.”
He said the Attorney General’s Office has done an excellent job and “we are not going to stop…until justice is served,” adding the issue makes his blood boil.
Dr. Chan and Sununu said the hope is to not shut things down despite the fact that the case numbers are trending up and that there are now new metrics to consider.
Sununu said the state has had weddings, events, and other gatherings during the pandemic.
“Guidelines have always been about protecting that vulnerable population,” those most likely to die or be hospitalized from COVID-19.
Dr. Chan said the goal is not to have to shut anything down. He noted the steps the state took early in the pandemic were to reduce transmission at a time when resources to combat it were limited, including testing.
“I think we have seen through the second surge there are ways to manage it without having to shut things down,” he said. He said there is a balancing act and he will be watching the numbers closely, particularly hospitalizations, deaths, and new cases.
He said he hoped that with warmer weather and more outdoor activity coupled with more people being vaccinated, community spread will go back down.
“The goal is to balance control of the pandemic and be able to conduct normal society functions,” Chan said. “So obviously we are watching the numbers closely…but let me emphasize we know how this virus is spread,” through respiratory droplets.
“We know how to manage it…and we know that the vaccine is highly effective…for asymptomatic cases even, so there is every expectation as we increase the vaccines, we will be better able to manage COVID in our communities,” Chan said.