CONCORD — Residents age 75 and older will be among the next wave of citizens to be offered the vaccine against COVID-19 beginning at the end of this month.
In addition to health-care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders, the state will then go to vaccinating about 225,000 estimated residents who are older than 74.
Gov. Chris Sununu and Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease, discussed for the first time the planned rollout of more vaccinations to all residents through the spring at Tuesday’s news conference in Concord.
Teachers and staff of schools and daycare centers will be among the next group offered the vaccine after that in an effort to keep schools open, Sununu said. It is hoped that by the summer all who want the vaccine will have it and that will include at least 70 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents.
The weekly state COVID-19 update came after a break during the holidays and at a time when the state is still battling the highly transmissible respiratory virus throughout communities with 11 deaths reported Tuesday and 305 now hospitalized.
The focus, officials said, is now on vaccinating the most vulnerable and those who care for them with an effort to equitably dispense the vaccine to all who want it free of charge regardless of where they are, including those who are incarcerated.
Doctors will be given latitude to choose who gets the vaccine based on what they see with a patient’s history and their vulnerability to the virus, Sununu said.
“There is a lot of gray area. We leave it up to our brightest and best,” to make those decisions, Sununu said. “We are just getting through the first few weeks of the vaccine but as we go forward, we will look at travel provisions, changes in quarantine and we are not at that point yet so people still need to be vigilant.”
“Let up on nothing,” he stressed. “Hopefully our numbers have stabilized; they are still high … we have a lot of outbreaks in long-term care facilities … we have a long way to go and people have to appreciate that.”
COVID-19 By the Numbers
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said the state recorded 667 new cases Tuesday, 427 of whom tested positive by PCR tests and 240 by antigen. The state continues to average about 750 to 800 a day, Chan said, and there are now 6,480 active cases, consistent with where we were a few weeks ago.
The average positivity rate on the PCR test is 8.7 percent. Chan said of the 11 new deaths, nine were associated with long-term care facilities. Of the deaths, numbering 57 in a week, about one-third were not associated with long-term care, he noted.
“If and when someone is offered a vaccine we are strongly urging them to take it … to prevent the control and spread of COVID-19,” in addition to protecting themselves, he said.
Daly said the state has received 30,035 vaccine doses and noted that 17,175 new doses were received this week. She noted the federal Centers for Disease Control has named New Hampshire among the highest in the distribution of the vaccine and the governor stressed that fact as well.
While there is variability from day to day, with certain caveats, the data overall is looking promising for the rollout, she said.
“We have also started receiving second doses to sites that administered the first doses,” Daly said, mostly at hospitals. Now the focus is on first responders at fixed sites across the state.
At long-term care facilities, there have been 62 vaccination clinics and 66 planned in the coming weeks provided by state partners CVS and Walgreens. “To date, we have received 73 percent for phase 1A” and based on future expected doses should be completed by the end or middle of January.
After that, the next phase will be those 65 to 74 years old and those who have medical complications, and the K-12 school and childcare staff.
The next wave, Phase 2B then will be those aged 50 to 65, and Phase 3A will be those under 50 who are at moderate risk, and those would be administered in about May and beyond, she said.
The last group will be everyone else, and Daly said she would expect that will be in late May and into the summer months.
People will receive the vaccine in a number of locations from hospitals, to medical care providers to pharmacies as they would a vaccine for the flu.
Daly said between 75 and 80 percent of health-care workers who have been offered the vaccine have taken it.
That percentage may be lower in the general population but the state would like 75 percent to be vaccinated by this summer.
“We need above 70 percent,” Sununu said, noting if someone is not at first willing to take the vaccine, they can go get it later.
Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, gave an update on long-term care facilities, announcing three closures of outbreaks and 15 new outbreaks.
Hillsborough County House of Corrections in Manchester’s facility at Valley Street is having a major outbreak and the state has taken over testing for the city of Manchester as of last Thursday.
Shibinette said testing occurred last Wednesday and again on Sunday and they are planning more testing later this week.
She said currently about 100 inmates and 27 staff have tested positive.
“Those numbers will change by the time I leave the podium,” she said.
Overall, hospitalizations have ticked down a little bit or remained stable, Sununu said. He noted hospitals are in constant communication with one another and if the state needs a surge capacity, “we are ready and can open up within 24 hours. But we are not there yet.”