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COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 5-11 are being offered at different pharmacies around New Hampshire. (COURTESY PHOTO)

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu encouraged parents to log on to the state website vaccines.nh.gov as soon as possible to get their kids vaccinated with holiday gatherings coming and the winter surge he predicted here already.

The state reported 736 new cases of the virus Wednesday and has been averaging 650 each day with 5,455 currently infected and hospitalizations and deaths going up as well.

Four new COVID-19 deaths were reported Wednesday.

There is a wait right now of about a week to find an appointment for a child’s vaccination, Sununu said, but the state definitely has a new tool on hand to fight COVID-19 with FDA approval last week of a smaller dose Pfizer vaccine for those ages 5 to 11.

It will take about three to four weeks for the state to stand up fixed clinics, officials said at Sununu’s now weekly news conference Wednesday.

“Obviously, there is a large demand,” Sununu said.

Some pharmacies and health-care providers are already vaccinating 5 to 11 year olds.

In North Conway, CVS, Walgreens, Hannaford and Walmart are set up to provide pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations. The Hanford in Ossipee and the Walgreens in Ossipee, Wolfeboro and Berlin also have pediatric vaccines.

Contracts that will boost vaccinations, including helping to vaccinate the 5 to 11 year olds, were approved by the Executive Council Wednesday after being part of a $27 million federal package rejected last month.

On Wednesday, the council reversed course and approved $22.5 million in federal funds with a nonbinding resolution in a 4-0 vote after rejecting the federal funds a month ago. On Wednesday, three Republican councilors, Janet Stevens, David Wheeler and Joe Kenney, voted with Cinde Warmington (D-Concord), who has been pushing for accepting the funds for more than a month.

Councilor Ted Gatsas (R-Manchester) abstained from the vote.

The state estimates there are about 125,000 in the 5 to 11 age group in New Hampshire who will be able to be vaccinated and this offers families hope that they can get together for the holidays safely this year.

With New Hampshire’s adult deaths mounting at 1,617 total Wednesday, Sununu noted that the state is in better shape than last holiday season when there were no vaccines available.

Sununu said he is getting his booster shot on Friday and urged others to do the same.

Holiday timing

A child given his or her first shot today would likely need the second shot to be administered in three weeks, by Dec. 2, and then it would take another two weeks to be fully immunized. That’s Dec. 17, seven days before Christmas Eve on Dec. 24.

Sununu gave no assurances that everyone who wanted a vaccine for their children could have them fully vaccinated by the holidays, but he said the focus is on getting as many people protected as possible.

Testing crunch

The state is facing a supply issue of available testing sites right now for people who want to know whether or not they have the virus.

“As a reminder, New Hampshire has four state-run testing sites to help with increased demand for testing,” and you can go to vaccines.nh.gov to get started, Sununu said.

Clinics will continue in school districts, and more will be scheduled soon, Sununu said. Parents should contact the schools for information. He also urged parents to talk with their children’s health-care providers “and determine if that is the right path for your child.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is hosting appointments for its patients now and plans a vaccination clinic this Saturday at Lebanon High School.

Memorial Hospital in North Conway is also planning a drive-thru vaccination clinic in the main parking lot at the hospital on Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. No appointment is necessary but people are asked to download and fill out consent forms ahead of time (go to memorialhospitalnh.org/kidsvax) to save time at the vaccination site.

“Everyone is getting into the game of making this more accessible,” he said. “We have lots of opportunities but we still have a lot to manage.”

The challenge in addition to convincing some will be timing based on a limited supply of appointments.

There are about 15,000 doses on hand and more to be ordered as the stock draws down, state officials said.

COVID-19 trends

The news was not trending positively, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan. He said there have been 31 new deaths in the past week from COVID-19 and the state’s positivity rate is also on the rise at 7.2 percent with hospitalizations ticking up as well.

Sununu said the clear majority of the new deaths are among the unvaccinated. And they are ticking upwards in long-term care facilities.

Two of Wednesday’s four reported deaths were among residents of long-term care facilities. Breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated are starting to show that boosters are important for many to consider now.

“We keep pushing the messaging,” to get vaccinated, Sununu said. “Even if there are a few more people (vaccinated) a day that is a ‘win.'”

Long-term care

Lori Shibinette, commissioner for Health and Human Services, said the state was closing one outbreak at a long-term care facility but opening seven new outbreaks (of three or more cases per facility) and that overall in the state there are 23 facilities now facing outbreaks.

Onsite medical is working in the next three to four weeks to open four to 16 pop-up and mobile vaccine clinics with some big venues in the offing.

She said Plymouth and Berlin will get the first in about three weeks.

‘Bipartisan win’

Sununu thanked the bipartisan effort on the state’s Executive Council for voting to support funding the state’s vaccine efforts and registry, after initially rejecting $27 million in federal grants a month ago.

He said it will speed up efforts to battle the pandemic and was done on a bipartisan basis. He said the language added a nonbinding resolution on a 4-0 vote is firmly against the federal vaccine mandate.

Describing it as “essential” funding, Sununu said a number of councilors talked together to make sure that the voices of their constituents were heard.

“We will always find a solution,” Sununu said. “I give credit to the council for working on it … I am very appreciative of them. At the end of the day, we have federal money not left on the table.”

The next step is to bring the federal grants to the Joint Fiscal Committee.

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