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Vaccine rollout forges ahead as all eligible NH residents can make appointments; hesitant locals share their vaccination stories

  • The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene saw many NH residents get either their first or second dose on Saturday. Photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene saw many NH residents get either their first or second dose on Saturday. Photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Dwayne Hudson of Peterborough receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from volunteer Larry Robbins at the Keene vaccination site on Krif Road on Saturday. Hudson’s wife Dani got her second shot during the drive-through clinic. Staff Photo by Tim Goodwin

  • The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene saw many NH residents get either their first or second dose on Saturday. Photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene saw many NH residents get either their first or second dose on Saturday. Photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Barbara Cascarano of Rindge received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Keene site on Krif Road on Saturday. Staff Photo by Tim Goodwin

  • The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene saw many NH residents get either their first or second dose on Saturday. Photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene saw many NH residents get either their first or second dose on Saturday. Photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The COVID-19 vaccination site on Krif Road in Keene saw many NH residents get either their first or second dose on Saturday. Photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/5/2021 3:59:34 PM

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in New Hampshire has far exceeded anyone’s expectations since the first shots were administered to hospital workers and first responders back in December.

As of last week, everyone in the state is now eligible to sign up for the vaccine with the last group, those 16-plus, allowed to schedule an appointment starting last Friday.

According to a press release from Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday, nearly 150,000 appointments were scheduled last week, after the state opened appointments to those 40-to-49 on March 29, ages 30-to-39 on March 31 and 16-plus on Friday.

“This was a historic week here in New Hampshire that marks an incredible milestone in our fight against COVID-19, with nearly 150,000 vaccination appointments scheduled in a single week,” Sununu said in the release. “The light at the end of the tunnel is well within sight. The COVID-19 vaccine is our shot to get back to normal, and we encourage all Granite Staters to do their part and sign up for an appointment today.”

As of Friday, more than 450,000 first doses have been administered, with over 227,000 Granite Staters now fully vaccinated – nearly 17% of the state’s population, the release said.

Tricia Zahn, director of community strategic partnership at the Center for Population Health at Cheshire Medical Center and director of the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, said the Keene vaccination site on Krif Road at the Keene State College Athletic Complex opened the Saturday after Christmas and ever since it has been a collaborative effort to get shots in the arms of those who chose to be vaccinated. The Keene clinic is run by the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network and the NH National Guard.

“I think it has gone as well as we could have hoped for,” Zahn said. “And the timeline has definitely been accelerated.”

Zahn said the average number of vaccines administered per day is more than 1,000 with a high of 1,427 in a single day.

“It’s amazing to be a part of,” she said. “We have an amazing community.”

She said the work of the volunteers is what has made the rollout so successful. And she has seen plenty of gratitude from those getting their vaccine, from food, thank you emails and even orchids.

“They like to tell us their stories, what they’re looking forward to after they’re vaccinated,” Zahn said.

She said while the rollout has been faster than expected, there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I think we’ve got some months ahead of us, especially with the two doses,” Zahn said. With the Pfizer vaccine, 21 days is required between the first and second dose and 28 days for Moderna.

Zahn said things got a little trickier recently, once the state switched from the VAMS system to VINI, but they are working to navigate the transition. She said each person who shows up will receive a card containing a vaccine date, location, product and lot number, as well as an appointment for the second shot.

While the goal is to administer that second shot on day 21 or 28, it doesn’t always work out schedule wise.

“The vaccines were studied at 21 and 28 days so we want to get close to those days,” Zahn said, but added that being outside that window won’t make it less effective. “We just want to make sure you get two doses.”

Nell Conkright of Peterborough works at RiverMead and admittedly has never been a “huge, pro-vaccine person,” she said. But when she learned that through her work at RiverMead that she was eligible to get her first vaccine shot on Dec. 22, it was an easy decision.

“I was kind of hesitant, but I’d rather be vaccinated then run the risk of getting other people sick,” Conkright said. “I also don’t want to get sick and it was worth it for me to know I’d be safer around other people.”

She said it was a relief to receive the Pfizer vaccine as part of the Peterborough community’s rollout and happily surprised it happened so early on.

“Once that happened, there was no question in my mind,” Conkright said. She received her second dose on Jan. 12.

Conkright said her circle is still pretty small and her behavior in terms of mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing has not changed. But as someone who goes to Florida every winter for some much-needed sunshine, once she passed the two-week mark after her second dose, she started to plan a trip.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to do that this year,” she said. She admitted it was a little nerveracking, “but I felt comfortable enough to travel.” So she went to Miami to visit a friend. Getting the vaccine was the only way she would have considered such an idea.

“The more people who can get vaccinated, and the sooner the better, hopefully society can return to ‘normal’ or a new normal,” Conkright said. “The more people who get vaccinated the better it will be. Once it’s available, you should take it if you can.”

Barbara Cascarano of Rindge arrived at the state COVID-19 vaccination site in Keene on Saturday for her first vaccine shot after having signed up on March 22.

Cascarano said she is not a big fan of vaccines, but knew this one was different.

“Because it’s the right thing to do for the greater good,” Cascarano said. “It’s not just about me.”

Ashley Williams of Keene also works at RiverMead as an assistant supervisor in culinary services and held off getting her first shot during the Dec. 22 vaccination clinic.

“It kind of shocked me in a way,” Williams said. “I wasn’t expecting it that quick.”

She wasn’t comfortable at first and had to be ready to move forward with her own vaccination.

“I was waiting to see how it turned out for people,” Williams said. “I did want to wait and see how people reacted to it.”

By the time CVS employees returned three weeks later to administer second doses, Williams had decided to get it.

“I think I was nervous, but I got over it,” she said. “I know it’s good for everybody.”

And ultimately that’s what it came down to.

“Doing your part is the best thing to do,” Williams said. “Doing your part is a way to get us through this.”

For those who have not received their first vaccine, Zahn offered some helpful tips to prepare for their initial appointment. First of all, it is important to note that the state vaccination sites are only open to NH residents. She said people from other states have used the NH systems to sign up and driven hours, but they cannot give the vaccine to those who are not a resident of the state.

Prior to your scheduled appointment date, people should log in to the state VINI system and complete the pre-questionnaire. You should show up at the time you have been given in order to keep the flow of cars moving and avoid causing any hiccups in the process.

“Not early, not late, at the appointment time,” Zahn said. Have the provided QR code ready, either on your phone or printed out and a photo ID.

“And just be patient and kind,” Zahn said. “And prepare to wait.” She said it’s a good idea to bring a snack, a drink and a book, and fill the gas tank in your car in case there is some extra wait time. Zahn said to come dressed in a way where the vaccine administers can easily access your arm and it’s a good to increase your water intake the day before and day of.

She said you don’t get to pick which vaccine you receive and it depends on what the allotment is for that particular day.

Zahn said she understands there is some hesitation that comes with the vaccine and moving forward the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network is planning an awareness campaign to address any concerns. She said while the vaccines were created at a rapid pace, the process behind it has been used for years.

“It’s an incredible win and something to celebrate,” Zahn said. “Not a point of concern.” She said thousands of people stepped up to take part in the studies, which allowed it to be fast tracked and available less than a year after COVID-19 was classified as a global pandemic.

And in the end, it’s about the greater good.

“If I have the opportunity to save someone else from serious illness or death, I’m going to do it,” Zahn said.


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