By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
WEST STEWARTSTOWN – The Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 may be here and in the arms of some doctors, nurses and members of Congress, but getting it into the arms of the elderly and staff at nursing homes is taking more time.
It will likely be after Christmas and into January for most of the nursing home residents and staff to get the first dose of the potentially life-saving vaccine, advocates advocates say.
Who gets vaccinated first stirred controversy when it was announced that members of Congress would be among the first with Republican Gov. Chris Sununu saying: “Congress has literally done nothing these last eight months. Now they are cutting the line and getting the vaccine ahead of residents in Long Term Care, nurses, and essential workers who stock our shelves. It’s outrageous. And insulting.”
Sununu was also critical on Twitter, to which Kathy Sullivan, former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, shot back: “Do your job and start being transparent about State House/legislative cases, fix the testing system, name independent investigator into Vets Home, get funding to towns/cities, just to start. We’re waiting.”
Sununu says the number of legislators and State House staffers who have tested positive for COVID-19 is confidential. House Speaker Dick Hinch’s recent death to COVID-19 raised questions about Republican events in which some legislators attended without wearing masks.
InDepthNH.org has filed a right-to-know request under RSA 91a to get the number of legislators and workers connected to the State House who have tested positive.
As to exactly when nursing home residents and staff will receive the vaccine, Jake Leon, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t say.
“The Pharmacy Partnership Program began today, in which long term care facilities in the State are partnering with CVS or Walgreens on vaccinating their staff and residents. The vaccines arrived at pharmacies today from vaccine manufacturers. The CDC is working directly with pharmacies and long term care facilities on the Pharmacy Partnership Program.” Leon said in an email Monday.
Officials at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, which is separately administered through the Veterans Administration, said they expect to get the vaccine on Wednesday. The facility has also been particularly hard hit with at least 35 resident deaths from COVID-19.
State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, sent a letter Monday to Sununu, the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Safety inquiring about a right-to-know request filed to learn about the state’s response to the outbreak there.
“The outbreak of COVID-19 at the New Hampshire Veterans Home was first reported on November 10th and has since resulted in the deaths of 35 veterans, with 55 more veterans and dozens more staff members testing positive. Given the gravity of this situation, information must be made public about the state’s response to this situation,” D’Allesandro wrote.
The request includes, but is not limited to, any communication, via email, text, or any other method on all devices both past and present, with the New Hampshire Veterans Home or regarding the New Hampshire Veterans Home, the letter said.
At the northern tip of the state, the Coos County Nursing Hospital in West Stewartstown was hoping for some relief with shots as early as today. They do have a tentative date for rolling up their sleeves, but not until Dec. 30, said administrator Laura Mills in a brief note Monday. They are not alone.
In Berlin, the tentative date is for residents of the separate Coos County Nursing Home to be vaccinated on Dec. 29 and 29, said Coos County Commissioner and Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier.
Many of the state’s 74 COVID-19 weary nursing homes will be seeing the vaccines administered after Christmas, but at least two homes may have vaccination clinics on Tuesday, said Brendan Williams, president of the 60-member New Hampshire Health Care Association.
He said the private partnership between the government and pharmacy giants Walgreens and CVS contracted to administer Pfizer vaccines in Medicaid-reimbursed facilities across the state, takes some time and the process is a bit “opaque.” He said there is seemingly no rhyme or reason to the rollout.
The state had about 6,300 of the 7,000 beds in nursing homes occupied as of August, he said, but this is where the state has lost so many lives to the virus. About 81 percent of New Hampshire’s 656 COVID-19 fatalities were lost to the virus at long-term care facilities.
Some facilities have been hurt particularly hard and while New Jersey lost 14 percent of its nursing home residents to the first wave of the virus, New Hampshire has lost close to 10 percent of its residents to the virus now with the second wave in full swing. There are more than 30 nursing homes facing outbreak status.
Williams said that while the new Congressional stimulus package is a relief for many, Congress has chosen to give only $3 billion to the hard-hit nursing home industry.
“You feel undervalued,” Williams said, noting the nursing home industry itself is suffering, not just in New Hampshire but across the nation.
Reporter Nancy West contributed to this report.